Following Nissan, General Motors Announces Second-Life Program for Electric Car Batteries

It might not seem like it, but the latest generation of electric and plug-in hybrid cars have been with us now for some time, with many cars successfully logging tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles in the four-and-a-half years since Nissan launched its LEAF electric hatchback and Chevrolet unveiled its Volt range-extended EV.

Used Chevy Volt batteries now have a new life at GM's Milford Proving Ground.

Used Chevy Volt batteries now have a new life at GM’s Milford Proving Ground.

As we explained earlier this week, most electric car battery packs will be capable of providing traction power for the life of the car they’re placed inside, with only the occasional high-mileage cars requiring a battery pack replacement before they meet the car crusher in the sky. But while an electric car battery pack will slowly degrade over time, losing its ability to provide the high-current power that’s required of it in a plug-in vehicle, its ability to store and provide power at a reduced current continues for many years after it is no-longer fit for use in an electric car.

It’s logical then to find those battery packs a second-life outside of the automotive world, working with other used electric car battery packs in large industrial or domestic installations to provide grid backup power or grid smoothing duties. And that’s exactly what BMW, Toyota and most recently Nissan are doing, each of which are carrying out their own independent programs to ensure electric car battery packs don’t just head to the junkyard.

Now we can add General Motors to the list, thanks to a program being carried out at its Milford Proving Ground in Michigan.

As GM detailed earlier this week in an official press release, five Chevrolet Volt battery packs are now being used at the location to store surplus energy generated by the site’s 74-kilowatt peak ground-mount photovoltaic solar array and two 2-kilowatt wind turbines. Combined, we estimate the five battery-pack array can store about 80 kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough to keep the facility operating day and night on one hundred percent renewable energy.

The five Volt batteries are used to help power the brand-new data centre on site at night.

The five Volt batteries are used to help power the brand-new data centre on site at night.

Over the course of a year, GM estimates the total energy produced and stored on site by this installation will total around 100 megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to power 12 households for a year.

“The system is ideal for commercial use because a business can derive full functionality from an existing battery while reducing upfront costs through this reuse,” said Pablo Valencia, Senior Manager of the Battery Life Cycle Management program at GM. “Even after the battery has reached the end of its useful life in a Chevrolet Volt, up to 80 percent of its storage capacity remains. This secondary use application extends its life, while delivering waste reduction and economic benefits on an industrial scale.”

Like Toyota’s recent installation at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone National Park, GM’s battery reuse project makes use of the original vehicular battery pack case to store the batteries in a custom-made rack-mounted solution. This time however, the batteries are treated to a more up-market rack than Toyota made in Yellowstone.

Encased in a specially-designed cabinet on-site — which resembles a ten foot shipping container — the batteries are fed with appropriate cooling to keep them at just the right temperature, while silvered thermal insulation on the inside of the unit itself provides all-year round temperature control.

The unit connects the onsite solar panels and wind turbines, storing excess energy for later.

The unit connects the onsite solar panels and wind turbines, storing excess energy for later.

To finish the unit off, the whole thing has been given a vinyl wrap proudly showing both wind turbines and solar panels, as well as a sign proudly proclaiming that the site is powered by the Chevrolet Volt. The unit itself is also perfectly-sized to fit on the back of a flat bed truck, making it ideal we’d presume for emergency backup power purposes during a power cut or perhaps event power for a music festival or county fair.

It might not have the same sex appeal as Tesla’s specially-designed Power Wall products, but we quite like it nonetheless. What do you think?


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