Imagine a world where you throw out 50% of every product you buy. From toothpaste to cereal to a bottle of wine, imagine dumping each one after using only a portion of the product. As crazy as this idea might sound, it’s how we approach many types of lithium-ion batteries (LiB). We stop using EV batteries when there’s around 70-80% state of health (SoH) remaining, for safety, as well as performance reasons. As EVs continue to gain market share, we’ll see an ever-increasing supply of these still-useful batteries being discarded or, at best, recycled for their component materials.
Though these retired batteries no longer meet EV standards, they can prove useful in other realms. These are fully functional batteries that can be implemented in new ways at a greatly reduced cost. In theory, we could give these batteries another life if we can measure the SoH of each one. Unfortunately, measuring a battery’s SoH is fraught with high costs and time delays. It’s currently faster and cheaper to retire these batteries, rather than repurpose them again after their “first life” application. Titan Advanced Energy Solutions is turning an expensive, 8-20 hour process into an easy, two-second test.
Titan’s ultrasound technology stands to dramatically change the economics here. By providing the same level of accuracy with a faster, more economical evaluation of the SoH of retired first life cells, we can more cost effectively prepare them for second life integration. It allows OEMs, car manufacturers, and second life integrators to reduce the costs and complexity associated with testing SoH, ultimately passes these savings on to end users. Titan and Schneider Electric are working together to change the way we think about second life battery integration, including costs, performance, and potential applications.
Our Current Model is Broken (Not to Mention Dirty and Expensive)
Right now, most of us rely on LiBs every day. They’re in the cars we drive, the phones we carry in our pockets, and the laptops we use at work. We even leverage them in more invisible ways: namely, within the electrical power grid. LiBs are used for grid storage, better accommodating periods of peak energy demand and providing ancillary services to support the power grid. This golden era of rechargeable batteries is exciting, since it means lower reliance on fossil fuels and greater reliability from the electrical grid.
During its first life, each battery pack integration is designed and manufactured for a specific purpose, whether it’s laptops, stationary storage, EVs, or other specific applications. Each use case necessitates the right storage capacity (kWh), the right amount of power (kW), the correct lithium-ion battery type for the number of cycles (cycle-life), and the rate of charge and discharge (C-rate) required for a specific applications. Some of the key players in this manufacturing process include LG, Samsung, Panasonic, and BYD, producing most of the batteries we rely on for first market applications globally.
At the end of the battery’s first life application, different markets hold different parties accountable for the safe disposal of the battery. In Europe OEMs (like car manufacturers) are generally responsible, while in other markets, auto recyclers and scrappers take this responsibility. The process of grinding up components and sorting valuable materials is dirty and energy-intensive. It’s also financially underwhelming, yielding only about 6% back from the original cost of the battery.
State of Health Measurement Hasn’t Been Economical to Date
In an ideal world, we’d repurpose these batteries for as long as we can before grinding them up and selling the raw materials, but in practice this is often not the case. EV batteries are often retired at ~70% SoH, grinding up resources that would be useful for a broad set of applications.
In many cases, the battery’s second life offers as much utility as the first life, without compromising safety. These batteries could prove useful for stationary storage, functioning as backup systems for hospitals and schools. They can be used to make renewable energy sources even more appealing, pairing them with solar panels for residential energy storage, for example. By marrying stationary storage with wind power systems or solar farms, we can capture energy during sunny or windy days, in order to deploy it later when needed. And yet, we can only re-purpose them if we get an accurate read on each battery’s SoH.
To date, there are high costs associated with determining the SoH of a battery. Using a refrigerator-sized cycler, you need to fully charge the battery, fully discharge it, and then count the electrons. This takes about 20 hours to do for each module; for reference, car batteries usually have ~96 modules. Cyclers cost upwards of $20,000. The process requires significant electricity, heat, and human labor, making it largely uneconomical. Until now.
Titan’s Ultrasound Technology Changes the Economics of Second Life Applications
Using our patented ultrasound technology, we can determine the SoH of a battery with very high precision: we measure batteries with over 99% accuracy. As opposed to the current method of counting coulombs, the measurement process happens within seconds. Our devices are small and inexpensive, allowing measurement to happen locally, storing useful analytics and data in the cloud. Car dealerships, for example, can easily test each battery as they’re retiring cars. They can then sell them back to companies that will give these batteries a second life, rather than paying a recycler to take them.
Clearly, this is a win for the OEMs, car manufacturers and the environment. Rather than navigate a dirty, labor-intensive recycling process for a paltry 6% return, they’re able to sell these batteries off to enjoy a second life. By re-purposing instead of recycling, car manufacturers can get closer to 50% back on the initial cost of the battery.
What’s even more compelling is how this changes the economics for the end user who’s buying batteries. Whether it’s a school, hospital, data center, or utility, they can get the storage they need for a fraction of the typical cost of new batteries. Again, although these batteries no longer meet EV standards, they still offer significant utility, especially in the realm of stationary storage.
These stationary storage systems are increasingly important in meeting our energy needs. Demand is rising because PV and wind usage is rising. While PV systems only produce energy at certain times of day, stationary storage smooths out the supply curve. You can even use them with traditional gas turbines; when you fire up a gas or coal system, it takes a while to ramp up, whereas consumer demand spikes at certain times of day. The problem with these use cases was always cost. Suddenly, thanks to second life batteries, the economics become far more attractive.
We Have the Potential to Impact the World
Rarely are we presented with the opportunity to reduce costs, improve infrastructure, while also protecting our planet. And yet, we’re now faced with the opportunity to dramatically change how we manage energy storage. Titan’s ultrasound technology enables a whole new realm of second life battery applications. The impact of this work will be far reaching:
We re-purpose batteries, getting twice the usage out of the costs that went into producing the battery; this includes not only the materials, but also the energy, shipping, and mining costs.
We minimize the need for processes that are otherwise dirty and wasteful, doubling the usage of each battery before it gets recycled.
We make it easier and cheaper to build stationary storage, helping to ensure that we can meet the growing demand for energy, even during peak usage periods.
We allow independent power providers to make investments in non-carbon based infrastructure while reducing capital expenditures.
We can lean more heavily on PV and wind power systems, thanks to cheaper stationary storage.
Our reliance on EVs will continue to rise. Rather than retiring these EV batteries after their first life, there’s a massive opportunity - both environmental and financial - to give them a second life. They offer the potential for reliable, inexpensive energy. Titan has big dreams to make energy cleaner, safer, and cheaper. We look forward to working closely with our strategic partners to make these dreams a reality.