Constantly subjected to a life of charging and discharging, often at extremely high currents, the average battery pack inside an electric car has a particularly hard life.
While most automakers agree that the average electric car battery pack can easily outlive the life of the car it is in, the high-current demands placed on electric car battery packs means that after five to ten years on the road, it can no-longer meet the high current demands of life in an electric car, despite still having plenty of storage capacity left for use in other, less demanding situations like storing excess electrical energy from the power grid.
Think of it as a retirement plan for hard-working electric car battery packs.
And that’s exactly why BMW, working alongside automotive parts manufacturer Bosch and European utility company Vattenfall have joined together to launch a new program designed to ensure that electric car battery packs can still provide a useful function long after being removed from the electric car they initially powered.
Called the Second life Batteries Alliance, the project aims to ensure that battery packs from the remaining prototype cars used in BMW’s Active E fleet trail — as well as the battery packs from its production BMW i3 and BMW i8 plug-in cars — are recycled rather than scrapped at the end of their useful time in a car.
Eventually, the project will offer recycled lithium-ion battery packs for used in off-grid and grid-stabilisation projects around the world, but for now, it is building a massive grid-tied stationary storage system in Hamburg, Germany.
Grid-tied stationary storage systems are designed to help alleviate stress on the electrical grid by storing energy during periods of low demand for use later on when electrical demand is high. They can either be charged up during off-peak periods from the grid itself, or they can be charged up using alternative power sources such as wind turbines or solar panels.
Containing the recycled battery cells from more than 100 BMW electric cars, the facility — designed and managed by Bosch and operated by Vattenfall — will total some 2 megawatt-hours of electricity storage capacity, with a peak power output of 2 megawatts.
To ensure the recycled battery packs last for as long as possible, Bosch, which has already had extensive experience with building and maintaining battery-based power storage solutions, has designed a special battery management algorithm which should ensure that each individual battery cell is kept in the peak of health without detriment to the rest of the facility.
It has perfected this algorithm from two previous projects in particular: a massive backup storage system connected to a large-scale wind farm to store excess electrical energy for later dispersal to the utility grid; and a smaller, lithium-ion based storage system in a housing complex designed to reduce grid load during periods of peak power demand.
Of course, as with other grid-tied systems, the 2 megawatt-hour storage facility can also be used to operate as a ‘virtual power station’ or ’emergency backup’ power source if the connection to the main electrical grid needs to be cut or there’s some form of brownout. Connected to a suitable facility such as a hospital or emergency response centre, it could also function to allow essential public buildings to continue operating in the case of a prolonged power outage.
With some modifications, a smaller system could even be used as a personal power backup system for use in a domestic situation, providing power for one or a few homes during a power outage, although we note that none of the companies involved in this project have mentioned that as a possibility.
It’s worth noting that BMW isn’t the first mainstream electric automaker to look into battery recycling projects: both Nissan and Tesla already have their own independent battery recycling programs. But with more and more electric cars hitting the market, expect stationary backup power storage solutions powered by recycled electric car battery packs to become the norm in remote areas and attached to important buildings in cities with high peak energy demands.
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