Ever since Japanese automaker Nissan first brought its landmark Leaf to market in December 2010, the company has been exploring ways to refabricate, recycle, resell, and reuse electric vehicle batteries for more than just scrap, but to power other things.
Now, as the company sets a goal to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050, it is putting its shoulder to the electric vehicle cradle-to-grave grindstone.
In a recent story published by Nissan Motor Corporation, the company laid out the many ways it has been developing its EV technology “to be about more than vehicle performance” and “become an integral part of how our world works.”
Prime amongst these developments is the Nissan Blue Switch project which enables electric vehicles to convert into clean and mobile emergency power supplies to be used in the aftermath of natural disasters. In 2020 alone, Nissan’s Blue Switch project secured the company the “Best Resilience Award” under the business and industry category by the 2020 Japan Resilience Awards – the only car maker to feature on the prize list.
Nissan also highlighted in December the role the Nissan Leaf’s vehicle-to-grid technology was able to support disaster relief workers in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis, which hit Japan in October 2019 and left 98 people dead, 7 missing, and cost the country $AU22 billion in damages.
“It can charge tools, like an impact driver or a circular saw, which we use to remove walls or floors damaged by the flood,” said Ryosho Hara, a volunteer with Disaster NPO Tabishonin.
‘Without electricity, we can’t do anything, so it’s very helpful.”
Beyond the disaster relief capabilities of the Nissan Leaf , the company is also beginning to refabricate, recycle, resell, and reuse Nissan Leaf batteries which are only now coming to the end of their useful life in a car.
Now that the first Nissan LEAF batteries are coming to the end of their useful life, they are now being sent to the 4R Energy Corp factory where, according to Nissan, “the batteries instantly gain extra value beyond what they would usually be expected to deliver during their normal lifetime.”
“We knew that when it came to an EV, the recycling solution had to be much cleverer than the norm and have distinct benefits for EV owners,” said Eiji Makino, CEO of 4R Energy.
“Simply recycling an old car for scrap metal wouldn’t be good enough.”
Nissan LEAF batteries being sent to the 4R factory are first graded on the quality of their components. Some components get an “A” grade and can be reused in new EV battery units, while others with a “B” grade can be used for industrial machinery like forklifts and large stationary energy storage. “C” grade components can still be put to good use in backup supply power units.
Regardless of what grade the batteries receive, however, 4R Energy’s engineers estimate that recovered Nissan Leaf batteries end up with a life span of about 10 to 15 years – beyond that of its role as an EV battery – dramatically extending the usefulness of EV batteries, increasing the cost value, and reducing their overall carbon footprint.
With many EVs still prohibitively expensive for the average consumer – and despite long-term lifetime cost reductions that stem from lower maintenance costs and much cheaper fuelling costs – creating demand for batteries beyond their useful EV lifespan could reduce the total cost of ownership for EV owners even further.
Reusing old EV batteries also holds benefits for renewable energy projects. Since 2014, a solar farm on the manmade island of Yumeshima in western Japan’s Osaka is using 16 lithium-ion EV batteries to manage energy fluctuations and storage the solar electricity generated.
Meanwhile, on Koshikishima, an island off the coast of southwestern Japan, 4R Energy has created a battery management system making it possible for wind and solar energy to power the local EV charging network.