Solar energy farms could offer second life for electric vehicle batteries, say MIT researchers

Posted: May 26, 2020 by oldbrew in Batteries, Energy, modelling, research
Tags: , ,

Image credit: MIT

Who wants to buy a secondhand EV after reading this? Maybe sellers should have to get a test certificate stating how much life there is left in the battery.
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Modeling study shows battery reuse systems could be profitable for both electric vehicle companies and grid-scale solar operations. — reporting.

As electric vehicles rapidly grow in popularity worldwide [Talkshop comment – do they?], there will soon be a wave of used batteries whose performance is no longer sufficient for vehicles that need reliable acceleration and range.

But a new study shows that these batteries could still have a useful and profitable second life as backup storage for grid-scale solar photovoltaic installations, where they could perform for more than a decade in this less demanding role.

The study, published in the journal Applied Energy, was carried out by six current and former MIT researchers, including postdoc Ian Mathews and professor of mechanical engineering Tonio Buonassisi, who is head of the Photovoltaics Research Laboratory.

As a test case, the researchers examined in detail a hypothetical grid-scale solar farm in California.

They studied the economics of several scenarios: building a 2.5-megawatt solar farm alone; building the same array along with a new lithium-ion battery storage system; and building it with a battery array made of repurposed EV batteries that had declined to 80 percent of their original capacity, the point at which they would be considered too weak for continued vehicle use.

They found that the new battery installation would not provide a reasonable net return on investment, but that a properly managed system of used EV batteries could be a good, profitable investment as long as the batteries cost less than 60 percent of their original price.

Not so easy

The process might sound straightforward, and it has occasionally been implemented in smaller-scale projects, but expanding that to grid-scale is not simple, Mathews explains.

“There are many issues on a technical level. How do you screen batteries when you take them out of the car to make sure they’re good enough to reuse? How do you pack together batteries from different cars in a way that you know that they’ll work well together, and you won’t have one battery that’s much poorer than the others and will drag the performance of the system down?”

On the economic side, he says, there are also questions: “Are we sure that there’s enough value left in these batteries to justify the cost of taking them from cars, collecting them, checking them over, and repackaging them into a new application?” For the modeled case under California’s local conditions, the answer seems to be a solid yes, the team found.

The study used a semiempirical model of battery degradation, trained using measured data, to predict capacity fade in these lithium-ion batteries under different operating conditions, and found that the batteries could achieve maximum lifetimes and value by operating under relatively gentle charging and discharging cycles — never going above 65 percent of full charge or below 15 percent. This finding challenges some earlier assumptions that running the batteries at maximum capacity initially would provide the most value.

“I’ve talked to people who’ve said the best thing to do is just work your battery really hard, and front-load all your revenue,” Mathews says. “When we looked at that, it just didn’t make sense at all.” It was clear from the analysis that maximizing the lifetime of the batteries would provide the best returns.

How long will they last?

One unknown factor is just how long the batteries can continue to operate usefully in this second application.

The study made a conservative assumption, that the batteries would be retired from their solar-farm backup service after they had declined down to 70 percent of their rated capacity, from their initial 80 percent (the point when they were retired from EV use).

But it may well be, Mathews says, that continuing to operate down to 60 percent of capacity or even lower might prove to be safe and worthwhile. Longer-term pilot studies will be required to determine that, he says.

Many electric vehicle manufacturers are already beginning to do such pilot studies.

Full article here.

  1. Stephen Richards says:

    Just build a gas fired power station. Cheap reliable long lasting

  2. pameladragon says:

    Surely EVs are not gaining in popularity anywhere but in the fevered imaginations of Green proponents. They received a heavy blow in the Moore film, Planet of the Humans, when it was revealed that they are essentially powered by fossil fuel.

  3. oldbrew says:

    there will soon be a wave of used batteries whose performance is no longer sufficient

    Soon? Doesn’t give any confidence in the durability of EV batteries.

  4. cognog2 says:

    I expect that eventually during daylight hours most of the output from the panels will go into topping up the batteries, leaving little for consumption.

  5. MrGrimNasty says:

    It’s just ridiculous, you would have to be constantly testing for imbalances, dead packs, dead cells, the numerous and constant re-connections means it’s odds on one will short/go high res. and cause a fire – massively increasing the already significant toxic fire risk of battery storage installations.

  6. Graeme No.3 says:

    Computer simulation only, real world?

  7. Gamecock says:

    ‘As electric vehicles rapidly grow in popularity worldwide’

    Begging the question fallacy.

  8. Dave Ward says:

    “It has occasionally been implemented in smaller-scale projects”

    Plenty of DIY projects to be found on YouTube*

    *Other, non censoring hosting platforms are available…

  9. JB says:

    The model indicates a possibility. But it says nothing about the real, high probability. The local battery dealer here sells off used batteries from large computer businesses all the time. The reason? Its not cost effective for them to manage their rotations,identify the more defective ones out of the bank(s). They just replace them all when their performance drops below a certain and then get sent to the used market, sold “as is.” It is one of the big reasons they all went to AGM and got rid of the wet cells. Too much overhead involved in the daily maintenance.

    EV batteries are application specific. They’re not meant to perform like deep cycle batteries. The fact of batteries is no matter what chemistry they use, they all deteriorate with age no matter what methods are used to retain their energy, or just sitting on the shelf.

    These days I wouldn’t give 2¢ for what comes out of MIT. Like technical innovations, businesses, and products, they all have a maturating life-cycle. MIT is a think tank that has seen its day.

  10. oldbrew says:

    continuing to operate down to 60 percent of capacity or even lower might prove to be safe and worthwhile

    But then it would take more of them to store a given amount of electricity. Also the end user has the cost of getting rid of them after their useful life is over.