Open ‘battery management systems’ could be key to the re-use of electric car powerpacks

With the Scottish Government committed to banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2032 and Volvo pledging to only selling electric cars in just two years time, recent press articles in the Guardian and the Financial Times have highlighted the challenges and opportunities associated with the reuse and recycling of batteries from electric cars.

Currently, less that 5% of lithium-ion batteries in the EU are recycled meaning large amounts are being sent to landfill with the risk of toxic gases if damaged and the depletion of finite resources such as lithium and cobalt.

The electric car boom will massively increase the volume of lithium-ion batteries in the waste stream with an estimated 11 million tonnes requiring recycling between now and 2030 (Source)  Due to the high costs associated with processing lithium-ion batteries for recycling, the reuse market is growing significantly

Batteries can still have up to 70% of their capacity when they stop being good enough to power electric vehicles, making them perfect – when broken down, tested and re-packaged – for functions such as home energy storage.  Amrit Chandan, Aceleron (Source)

There is growing interest in both academia and industry for reusing the batteries, a process which currently involves time consuming manual removal, disassembly into individual cells, testing and finally reassembling with similar quality cells (Source)

Research is underway to reduce this processing time including introducing automation into the process and working with battery manufacturers to use clearer labels and design for reuse.

It is clear that information about the batteries design and use are (like other automotive components) crucial to a viable, scaleable re-use industry.

An inbuilt solution?

However, a solution may already exist.  Electric vehicles have an inbuilt battery management system (BMS)  These systems are designed to store minimal yet crucial data on the condition of the batteries.  There are opportunities to explore additional functionality to include information that would automatically allow a used battery to be tested and classified for reuse (source)

Perhaps auto remanufacturers should start  lobbying now for legistation and standards to ensure the data held in BMS systems can be read by third parties independent of the car companies to future proof their business and prepare for the next generation of reuse.