These Batteries Can't Power a Car—but They Can Light a City

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One question: Who owns the reused batteries, and who’s liable if thing goes wrong? Automakers cognize they whitethorn beryllium blamed if 1 of their aged batteries is progressive successful a fire. GM precocious recalled each Chevrolet Bolt due to the fact that flawed batteries made by the Korean institution LG Chem led to fires. “It’s legally a spot of a grey area,” says Pesaran, the NREL engineer. “And with lawyers—they tin reason anything.”

There are method issues, too. Before you tin reuse an EV battery, you person to cognize however overmuch foodstuff it retains and whether it’s worthy of a 2nd life. “Evaluating the wellness of batteries is beauteous indispensable to knowing whether it has value,” says Andy Latham, an electrical conveyance salvage advisor astatine Salvage Wire.

That’s not arsenic elemental arsenic it sounds. Battery makers and automakers regularly alteration the compartment chemistry and architecture of their batteries, making it hard to make a modular process. Moreover, batteries coming retired of work contiguous are apt damaged from crashes, oregon person immoderate manufacturing defect. Even uncovering aged batteries to trial tin beryllium a challenge. Chris Mi, an engineering prof who studies lithium-ion batteries astatine San Diego State University, talks to salvage gait operators and automakers. Other teams commencement connected Google.

ReJoule, a startup based successful confederate Los Angeles County amid portion malls and rocking lipid derricks, wants to streamline that process. Its prototype is simply a lightweight, desktop computer-sized instrumentality that tin diagnose successful little than 5 minutes, and arsenic small arsenic 30 seconds, whether a artillery is suitable for a 2nd life. Today, the process tin instrumentality hours and requires machines that tin beryllium heavier than the artillery packs they’re diagnosing. ReJoule plans a 2nd machine, the size of a dorm country fridge, to diagnose a artillery battalion earlier it’s adjacent taken retired of a car. Its tech relies connected electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, which uses an alternating existent scanned implicit galore frequencies to measurement the wellness of the materials wrong a artillery cell. Eventually, the institution would similar to spot its bundle embedded successful caller batteries truthful they tin beryllium monitored done their stressful lives connected the road. It would besides similar assistance from regulations, oregon astatine slightest manufacture standards to marque the occupation easier.

For now, though, ReJoule’s engineers person to get wrong the batteries. Battery packs are sealed with concern glues and aren’t built to beryllium disassembled. Years of hard work connected bumpy roads tin warp their screws and bolts. So it tin instrumentality ReJoule’s engineers hours conscionable to pry 1 open. Once inside, tons tin spell wrong. One graphic reminder: a power called a contactor that is firmly welded to a metallic tool. It’s not expected to be. The contactor fell crossed the instrumentality portion an technologist was mounting up a test, and “there were, you know, immoderate fireworks,” says Steven Chung, ReJoule’s CEO, who founded the institution with his sister Zora. ReJoule keeps the happening astir to punctual everyone to instrumentality to the information rules.

Another looming question is whether aged EV batteries are a reliable mode to store vigor for the grid. That’s wherefore the aged Nissan Leaf batteries are retired successful that tract successful Lancaster. One fearfulness is that those batteries—or definite kinds of batteries—will enactment for conscionable a fewer years earlier degrading rapidly. Utilities won’t privation batteries they person to swap retired often. B2U president and cofounder Freeman Hall says his institution wants to beryllium the semipermanent worth to vigor experts and investors. If B2U tin amusement that aged lithium-ion batteries tin complaint and discharge galore times portion sitting retired successful the blistery prima and the beardown upwind for years and inactive bash bully work, “it changes everything” successful presumption of the company’s quality to rise money, Hall says.