A New Life On The Grid For Tired Chevy Volt Battery Packs?

First Chevrolet Volt battery pack built at Brownstown Township plant, January 2010

First Chevrolet Volt battery pack built at Brownstown Township plant, January 2010

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The lithium-ion battery pack in the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is backed by an eight-year, 100,000 mile warranty.

The engineers behind its development will be the first to tell you that most packs will last quite a bit longer than that. But even the most carefully treated Volt battery pack will still have a finite lifespan in an automobile.

Still, when the pack's energy capacity has fallen to 80 percent or less of its original 16 kilowatt-hours--meaning it's no longer serviceable for use on the road--it can still be repurposed for other uses.

One such application is being developed by power grid systems developer ABB Group, who envisions using retired Volt battery packs to store energy for later addition to the power grid.

ABB’s plan calls for five or more Volt battery packs to be assembled into an energy storage unit, much like an oversized battery backup. General Motors showed off a prototype at an ABB facility in Raleigh, N.C., during the Plug-In 2011 conference this week.

Ideally, these units would use either wind or solar power to maintain a full battery charge, but in the event of a blackout could feed power back to the grid. The units would also provide supplemental power for peak demand periods.

2011 Chevrolet Volt outside Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant

2011 Chevrolet Volt outside Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant

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Although the system is still in the early stages of development, initial results are promising.  In theory, revenue from selling depleted battery packs could help Chevy offset the price of new battery packs, lowering the price of electric cars and plug in hybrids.

Repurposing the battery packs would keep them out of landfills, promoting whole-car recycling, although any substantial supply of used packs out of junked Volts would be many years in the future.

Some utility industry observers remain skeptical that electric utilities will want to purchase arrays of used battery packs with varying energy capacities, and unknown histories, duty cycles, and usages.

Many feel that utilities instead may purchase new automotive-scale lithium-ion cells and rack them for energy storage. Southern California Edison is already testing a prototype of such a unit, which allows erratic and unpredictable renewable energy--wind or solar--to be stored and fed into the grid at times of maximum demand.

To show how serious GM is about this, the company has appointed Pablo Valencia to the newly created position of senior manager, battery lifecycle management. Valencia and his team are tasked with ensuring that vehicle battery packs have a life beyond their intended design, providing both environmental and societal benefits for years to come.

[Auto Observer]


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Comments (5)
  1. You have to wonder if this is just a PR campaign and nothing more.

    Sure, I know there are battery systems on the grid right now for load leveling and long feeder lines, so the technology works. However, this systems doesn't seem to make much sense.

    Firstly, it would seem that the best market for used Volt batteries would be Volts that have had a battery failure.

    Secondly, used Volt batteries will not become available until at least 8 years from now. So is ABB really that interested in planning for an event so far in the future?

    I am going to call this as simple PR. Check back in eight years to see if I am right or wrong.

  2. This reinforces an article about car battery recycling and disposal from NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/automobiles/13RECYCLE.html
    Since lithium-ion has superior characteristics to lead-acid as well as being lighter, you could start seeing Li-on UPSes in a few years. And, it'll in less than 8 years - that's merely the warranty - but, unless electrics cars become popular, you simply won't have the numbers to feed an aftermarket for used batteries. The best scenario would be widespread adoption of EVs in high-use scenarios, such as taxis or fleet vehicles as those batteries will be worn much faster than your typical personal auto.

  3. Richard Petty Motorsports had the right idea during the Chevrolet Volt 400 ... http://placeitonluckydan.com/2011/05/nascar-pulls-plug-on-chevrolet-volt-400/

  4. Sure it is part PR, but it is good to see there is some thought given to this even if at this point it isn't something that can be done for about a decade.

  5. @Rich, I agree. It's an attempt to address a problem before it really occurs.

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