Episode 167 - EV Batteries Get a Second Life Down Under

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Even after close to a decade of use, EV batteries still retain about 80% of their capacity. This means that they can be used for other purposes, like storing energy for homes. We call this a second life.

In the latest episode of Sustainable Mobility Briefs, Frank Menchaca, President, Sustainable Mobility Solutions at SAE International, discusses how a team of Australian researchers discovered that repurposed EV batteries—if re-used for a period of about four years—can reduce the overall environmental impact that comes with making them in the first place.

Research like this is so important as we ensure EVs live up to the promise of a net zero emission future.

Meet Our Guest

President, Sustainable Mobility Solutions, SAE International

Frank Menchaca is President, Sustainable Mobility Solutions at SAE International, the oldest and largest technical organization for engineering in ground and air transportation. Frank incubated and developed SAE's work in sustainability and has also led the organization's product development, marketing, information publishing, professional learning, events and international business. Frank has a deep background in information products and served as Executive Vice President at Cengage Learning. Frank holds degrees from New York University and Yale University and is a candidate in the Chief Sustainability Officer certification program at MIT. A musician and artist, Frank has released ten records of original music under his own name and in the duo Hourloupe; his visual art practice includes painting and digital media.


Frank Menchaca:

Hello, I'm Frank Menchaca and this is the Sustainable Mobility Brief. The world of transportation is undergoing one of the most profound changes since its beginning from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. This change affects everything that goes into getting people and things from one place to another.

The sustainable mobility brief looks at what's important, what's new, and what that means to you.

If you were around when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, and I asked you where the man who handed you a Vegemite sandwich was from, chances are you'd know the answer is Brussels. The question of course refers to lyrics from the hit song down under by the Australian band, Men at Work.

Early stars of MTV, they reminded you of the many pleasant surprises that can come from that land down under when it comes to sustainable mobility. Those pleasant surprises are still happening. One quick look at the scientific literature, and you'll see all kinds of interesting research coming out of Australia.

In 2021, a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne's Department of Mechanical Engineering published a study about the repurposing of Australian electric vehicle batteries.

We've known for a while that the average EV lifespan is roughly eight to 10 years, even after close to a decade of use. The EV battery still retains about 80% of its capacity. That means that it can be used as a storage device, such as in homes we call this second life. What does this matter? EV batteries, at least right now, use lithium, manganese, cobalt, and nickel.

These are rare earth materials that have to be mined. Mining is very resource intensive and it can use a lot of water and produces a lot of carbon dioxide, the stuff that causes global warming. So while electric vehicles have no tailpipe emissions, their battery manufacturing makes plenty for EVs to live into their promise as the backbone of a net zero emission infrastructure.

Their batteries have to be reused. The Australian researchers perform what is known as a comparative lifecycle analysis or LCA. On a repurposed battery versus one that isn't reused. Lifecycle analysis is a key tool for identifying and measuring the environmental impacts a product has in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, and a whole host of other things like freshwater eutrophication.

The thing that creates algae blooms and turns lakes into pools of emerald muck.

It turns out that the repurposed EV batteries if reused for a period of about four years, can reduce the overall environmental impact that comes with making them in the first place. Multiple benefits go with this. More reuse means less mining and manufacturer savings in terms of cost, time, and environmental impact.

Reuse means that fewer batteries end up in landfills where they pose all sorts of threats from combustion to toxic materials entering the water system. In fact, in 2018, something like 98% of Australia's lithium ion battery waste ended up in landfills. The Australian study is important for other reasons too.

It gives us a glimpse of how we need to think about manufacturing of batteries, EVs, and pretty much everything else in the 21st century with recycling and reuse at the center and from the very beginning. This is what is known as circular economy or a closed loop system, using fewer virgin natural resources by reusing the ones we've already made into products.

This represents both a challenge and an opportunity to rethink manufacturing. The result can be a more sustainable world, and whether or not you're a fan of Australian pop music that is worth singing about at SAE, we think about this every day in our mission to advance mobility, knowledge and solutions for the benefit humanity.

Follow the link in the show notes to visit our website for more information. I'm Frank Menchaca for Sustainable Mobility Brief. Thanks for listening.

SAE International makes no representations as to the accuracy of the information presented in this podcast. The information and opinions are for general information only. SAE International does not endorse, approve, recommend, or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned in this podcast.


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