How old electric car batteries could power the future

In a warehouse in Port Coquitlam, B.C., sits a large, blue metal box that might help save Canada’s energy grids and prevent people from suffering sky-high electricity bills.

You are reading: How old electric car batteries could power the future

It’s an energy storage device that its makers, Moment Energy, are calling “Flora.” What makes this unit special is what’s inside. Powering it are retired batteries that are no longer good enough for electric vehicles’ high-speed acceleration, but still have a lot of life left.

“These EV batteries have 80 per cent capacity left in them once they reach end-of-life. This makes them perfect for stationary energy storage applications,” said Gurmesh Sidhu, one of the co-founders of Moment Energy.

The Vancouver-based start-up is harnessing the scraps of the electric car revolution to power factories, neighbourhoods and charging stations.

A Chevrolet Volt electric car is charged through Moment Energy's energy storage device.

A Chevrolet Volt electric car is charged through Moment Energy’s energy storage device.

Darren Twiss / Global News

Think of the device as a giant rechargeable battery; it can store energy from the grid or renewable systems like solar panels, and then act as a power source when needed.

The idea came to Moment Energy’s four founders, Edward Chiang, Gabriel Soares, Sumreen Rattan, and Sidhu, while they were studying engineering at Simon Fraser University. During a project where they were tasked with building an electric race car, they realized that the transition to EVs would lead to a battery waste problem.

“As we did more research, we realized there was a business opportunity here,” Rattan says.

Moment Energy has been testing its Flora prototype in a variety of environments and gathering data; it’s being used to replace diesel-fuel generators in remote areas, and to store renewable energy from solar and wind farms.

Most recently, they’ve teamed up with Hydro Ottawa to see if the device can supplement power in suburbs where EV adoption is straining the local grid supply.

“By adding a battery, we can then charge it during a low-power time that would normally be unused power, and use the battery to provide excess power to these sites during the evenings when they’re charging all of these electric vehicles,” Sidhu said.

Moment Energy co-founder Gurmesh Sidhu at their new Port Coquitlam, B.C. facility.

Moment Energy co-founder Gurmesh Sidhu at their new Port Coquitlam, B.C. facility.

Darren Twiss / Global News

Canadian towns and cities need more energy storage — and fast. The country’s energy demand is expected to surge by 50 per cent over the next decade, as more cars and businesses electrify, a recent RBC report found.

The federal government has set an ambitious mandatory target for all new car sales to be zero-emission by 2035, faster uptake than the U.S. and many European countries.

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“That’s going to completely transform how our electrical grid at a city-level actually works,” said Evan Pivnick, a program manager at Clean Energy Canada, a think tank focused on climate and the energy transition.

Ontario, the country’s most populous province, could see electricity shortages as soon as 2026, according to the same report. That could cause individual and business electrical bills to balloon.

Moment Energy’s Flora system could be a part of the solution. The unit is designed for commercial use to help businesses be more “energy independent,” Rattan said.

More EVs on the road also means more retired batteries that could live out a second act. The average electric car battery is expected to last between 10 to 20 years, longer than expected.

Moment Energy receives it's retired EV batteries directly from car manufacturers. The company currently has partnerships with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan North America.

Moment Energy receives its retired EV batteries directly from car manufacturers. The company currently has partnerships with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan North America.

Darren Twiss / Global News

“The batteries themselves are lasting a lot longer than the car itself,” said Steve Fletcher of the Automotive Recyclers of Canada. It’s been about a decade since the first modern EVs were mass-produced, and Fletcher said auto recyclers are just now seeing those vehicles being brought in.

“We’re seeing enough of them that it’s more than a trickle,” he said.

At some point, due to performance issues or time, all EV batteries will need to be replaced. But they are too valuable to simply throw away. One option is to recycle them, which would reintroduce the precious minerals in the batteries back into the supply chain. But new research suggests that re-use is another viable route.

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“We believe in using resources to their full potential. They have so much life left in them it would be a waste to not re-use them,” Rattan said.

EV batteries are expensive and resource intensive to make. So, just like the robust auto parts market that exists today, a new industry around second-life uses for these batteries is taking shape.

Entrepreneurs and car manufacturers are developing creative ways to extend the life of old EV batteries. Nissan has used its old LEAF batteries to power streetlights in Japan. General Motors has retrofitted Chevrolet Volt batteries to be capable of supplying homes with backup power. B2U Storage Solutions in the U.S. is using EV batteries to store excess power from California’s solar farms.

In Canada, Montreal-based start-up EVB360 is remanufacturing LEAF and Volt batteries to create energy storage devices that could be used in off-grid situations.

Martin Ménard, vice-president of operations and supply at EVB360, said he’d like to see the technology used in developing countries where communities don’t have access to electricity.

“That’s where people need energy most in the world,” he said. “Giving communities clean and constant energy will allow them to grow.”

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Ménard said they are testing a prototype with an existing solar panel system in Dakar, Senegal.

Finding new uses for spent EV batteries lessens their overall emissions by extending their life. Researchers at Cornell University found that the carbon footprint of these batteries can be reduced by up to 17 per cent if they are reused before being recycled.

Re-use can also lower the cost of energy storage devices. In 2025, second-life batteries may be 30 to 70 per cent less expensive than new ones, according to a report from the consulting firm McKinsey. But as battery manufacturing ramps up, those cost savings could drop to 25 per cent by 2040.

Based on its own market analysis, Moment Energy says its device is 25 per cent cheaper than other commercial storage devices.

EVB360’s unit will retail for CAD $10,000 to $12,000, which Ménard said is cheaper than energy storage units that use new batteries. Their device could be used as supplementary power for individual residences.

Retired EV batteries waiting to be tested at EVB360's facility in Vaudreuil-Dorion, QC.

Retired EV batteries waiting to be tested at EVB360’s facility in Vaudreuil-Dorion, QC.

Courtesy Martin Ménard

Both EVB360 and Moment Energy are currently seeking certification for their new technology in order to be able to sell it directly to customers. Batteries, after all, are fire-prone goods.

It’s an emerging field with significant potential, but more research is needed to assess how quickly retired batteries degrade in re-use applications. Based on testing data, Moment Energy estimates their device will last seven to 10 years.

“We’re assuming a minimum of seven years, but it could be much longer than that,” said Rattan. “We have a seven-year warranty.”

Moment Energy gets its batteries directly from car manufacturers. They then test each module to make sure it is safe and reliable before adding it to one of their Flora devices.

Moment Energy calls its energy storage device "Flora." It's intended for commercial or industrial uses.

Moment Energy calls its energy storage device “Flora.” It’s intended for commercial or industrial uses.

Darren Twiss / Global News

Because the technology is so new, little real-world data exists to support claims that these refurbished batteries will last long enough to compete with new units and the recycling industry.

“The economics for second life will need to be greater than the economics of recycling,” said Pivnick. “It’s going to be a competitive space.”

Evolving battery technology could also hamper the re-use field. Lithium-ion batteries are the favourite for cars today, but already automakers are experimenting with other chemistries such as solid state.

All innovation comes with uncertainty at first. Where we are with electric vehicle technology is equivalent to the 1920s and 1930s combustion-engine car, said Pivnick.

“There’s a lot of innovation still out there.”

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