Ever wondered what happens to the batteries that power Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric cars when their useful life is done?
In the lead-up to the mass manufacture of electric vehicles, there was a lot of discussion about what happens to the batteries after they've finished they useful automotive life. As we heard recently, Nissan has ambitious-sounding plans for recycling of its Leaf cells. Now, as they told us they would, General Motors has announced how it is repurposing packs – you know, besides making bird houses from discarded covers.
The auto company has taken five Chevy Volt batteries and hooked them up to act as a stationary power supply. In its small shed, nicely wrapped with graphics proclaiming the effort, the recycled packs take up extra energy production from a 74-kilowatt solar array and a pair of 2-kW wind turbines by the GM Enterprise Data Center at its Milford Proving Ground. It can later dish out the captured electrons when there's not enough sun and wind to power the building. In case of emergency, the installation can also act as a back-up power source for as long as four hours. The renewable energy, in conjunction with the storage ability, have helped the the building achieve LEED Gold certification.
In its official press release, which you can read below, the company makes no mention of repeating this effort at other locations or pursing a separate energy storage business à la Tesla. For now, at least. There's probably a bit of time left before there is a large supply of used batteries available for this sort of reuse.
Used Chevrolet Volt Batteries Help Power New IT Building
Combined with solar and wind power, data center office achieves net zero energy
MILFORD, Mich. – What happens to the batteries that power Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric cars when their useful life is done? Five of them are helping keep the lights on at the new General Motors Enterprise Data Center at its Milford Proving Ground.
Repurposed scrap Volt battery covers already star in a variety of applications, from bat houses to nesting boxes for endangered duck species. Now, as Chevrolet closes on the second-generation Volt for 2016, it's time to begin tapping the energy left in batteries from first-generation models.
Because the Volt typically draws its power from a band of energy in the battery pack, there is a lot of leftover juice for stationary use. A new solar array and two wind turbines feed the administration building's circuit breaker panel, where the five Volt batteries work in parallel to supply power to the building, delivering net-zero energy use on an annual basis.
"Even after the battery has reached the end of its useful life in a Chevrolet Volt, up to 80 percent of its storage capacity remains," said Pablo Valencia, senior manager, Battery Life Cycle Management. "This secondary use application extends its life, while delivering waste reduction and economic benefits on an industrial scale."
The batteries also can provide back-up power to the building for four hours in the event of an outage and stores it when it's unneeded. Excess energy is sent back to the grid that supplies the Milford campus.
The 74-kilowatt ground-mount solar array coupled with the two 2kW wind turbines generate enough power to provide all of the energy needs for the office building and lighting for the adjacent parking lot. Together, these renewable sources generate approximately 100 Mwh of energy annually, roughly equivalent to the energy used by 12 average households.
The secondary application is being used as a living lab to understand how the battery redistributes energy at this scale. And the company is working with partners to validate and test systems for other commercial and non-commercial uses.
"This system is ideal for commercial use because a business can derive full functionality from an existing battery while reducing upfront costs through this reuse," Valencia said.
The reuse of Volt batteries also helped the data center administration building attain LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.