Nissan wants to give electric car batteries a second life

The booming sale of electric cars, at least in some European markets, is leaving manufacturers with a new problem; the batteries last much longer than the cars. Now, Nissan will try to re-use the old batteries in buildings.

Photo: Nissan PR

AMSTERDAM: Would you like a car battery in your basement? In future, this might be a question asked by one of the world's largest manufacturers of electric cars, Nissan. The company behind the top-selling electric car Nissan Leaf is facing an incoming flood of used batteries from electric cars as the cars become older and near the end of their life-span.

Because, whereas a typical car in Europe has a life span of maybe 12-14 years on the roads, the batteries a far more durable and can easily last up to 20 years. Nissan itself guarantees at least 70 percent charging capacity after eight years, but even with a capacity loss the batteries are still powerful and very valuable.

One solution could be to use the batteries as part of the energy grid by installing them as storage systems in either existing or new buildings, according to Nissan.

Nissan has just finished such a system in collaboration with the US-based group Eaton, which is specialized in developing electricity systems. The two companies have just installed a 3MW large battery storage system in the parking garage of the Dutch national stadium Amsterdam Johan Crujiff Arena. The system consists of batteries from 148 used Nissan Leaf cars and has been connected to the stadium's solar cells. In principle, the solution could provide 7000 homes in Amsterdam with power for one hour. The system has a storage effect of 3 MW and an effect of 2.8 MW.

The plant is connected to the energy grid in Amsterdam, where it can help balance the grid, and surplus power can be sold to the community with time.

"It has been the first time we have carried out a project of this scale with used batteries and we have therefore gained a lot of experience in terms of regulatory approvals, technical difficulties and financing that we can now bring with us to other potential projects around the world. It is no secret that especially the logistical task of collecting the batteries is demanding, but as we get more and more electrical cars on the roads there will also be more and more used batteries available. So those costs will drop," explains Fransisco Carranza, Managing Director of Energy Systems at Nissan Europe, to EnergyWatch.

Sales success presents challenges

To date, Nissan has sold more than 300,000 Nissan Leafs globally and has just launched the car in a new version. However, the growing sale of electrical cars globally has in recent years put focus on the fact that the batteries for the electrical cars require a number of rare types of soil. A problem that Nissan is very conscious about, emphasizes Carranza.

"As a car manufacturer, we have a great responsibility to ensure that the batteries we equip our cars with are also collected and re-used in a responsible manner.  Giving the batteries a 'second life' in buildings makes sense in every way and is a way forward we highly believe in. Our opinion is that you should see electrical cars as a natural part of the energy grid's cycle. While they are in the cars they can help balance the grid and help store renewable energy. Afterwards, they can become a critical component in the work on making our buildings more green and sustainable and providing increased value to for example solar cell systems. And lastly, the valuable raw materials such as aluminum and lithium in the batteries will be separated and re-used."

So far, there are only few experiences with re-using the batteries from electrical cars. The project in Amsterdam is the first of its kind at such a large scale. In Denmark, focus has so far been on how to integrate the batteries in the grids while they are still in the cars. But in the longer term, Nissan would like to see the recycling of batteries on the agenda in other European countries.

"One of the major challenges with using batteries from worn-out electrical cars is that we lack regulation. When we sell a car in Europe the rules are the same regardless of whether we sell it in Italy or in Sweden. We are missing the same standards in construction, and it means that we can not just bring experiences from here in the Netherlands to Germany and make an equivalent project there. We have to start over again by obtaining permits from the authorities, fire services and so on. It is very resource-intensive and makes it difficult to utilize the resource the batteries present," says Carranza.

May be used in private homes

In principle, it is possible to combine the batteries from Nissan with batteries from other electrical car manufacturers in order to make storage solutions for buildings consisting of a number of different batteries.

"We would like to see a collaboration across the car industry, but it is not something we are currently working on," says Carranza.

However, Nissan is not the only player on the market for batteries for buildings. Last year, the competitor Tesla launched a storage solution where it was possible to buy a new Tesla battery and install it in one's private home.

Carranza thinks this solution is interesting, and with time Nissan batteries could also find their way into private homes, he says.

"The reuse of batteries is far from limited to large commercial or public constructions. We are also looking into - with our partner Eaton - application in private homes, and then we have very positive experiences with agriculture, where it is possible to become independent from the electrical grid by using batteries. Thereby, farmers will get access to cheaper electricity, maybe in combination with renewable energy like wind or solar power. Our biggest problem is that we don't have enough used batteries."

English Edit: Ida Jacobsen

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