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Second life of electric vehicle batteries: relation between materials degradation and environmental impact

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Abstract

Purpose

Nowadays, the electric vehicle is one of the most promising alternatives for sustainable transportation. However, the battery, which is one of the most important components, is the main contributor to environmental impact and faces recycling issues. In order to reduce the carbon footprint and to minimize the overall recycling processes, this paper introduces the concept of re-use of electric vehicle batteries, analyzing some possible second-life applications.

Methods

First, the boundaries of the life cycle assessment of an electric vehicle are defined, considering the use of the battery in a second-life application. To perform the study, we present eight different scenarios for the second-life application. For each case, the energy, the efficiency, and the lifetime of the battery are calculated. Additionally, and based on the global warming potential, the environmental impact of the electric vehicle and its battery on a second-life application is determined for each scenario. Finally, an environmentally focused discussion on battery electrodes and research trends is presented.

Results and discussion

For the selected scenarios, the second life of the battery varies from 8 to 20 years depending on the application and the requirements. It has been observed that the batteries connected to the electricity grid for energy arbitrage storage have the highest impact per provided kilowatt hour. On the contrary, the environmental benefit comes from applications working with renewable energy sources and presenting a longer lifetime. We pointed out that a correlation between cycling conditions and degradation mechanisms of the electrode materials is compulsory for proper use of the electric vehicle battery in a second-life application.

Conclusions

To limit the environmental impact, batteries should be associated with renewable energy sources in stationary applications. However, it is more profitable to re-use Li-ion batteries than to use new lead-acid batteries. Although many batteries applied for electric vehicles use graphite-based anodes, the latter may not be the most suitable for the second-life application. A better understanding of Li-ion battery degradation during the second-life application is required for the different existing chemistries.

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Acknowledgments

A.I. and F.A. are supported by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 608931 through the MAT4BAT project (http://mat4bat.eu/). We would like to thank the UPC for the opportunity to do research in these fields.

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Correspondence to Lluc Canals Casals.

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Responsible editor: Ming Chen

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Casals, L.C., García, B.A., Aguesse, F. et al. Second life of electric vehicle batteries: relation between materials degradation and environmental impact. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22, 82–93 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-015-0918-3

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Keywords

  • Degradation mechanisms
  • Electric vehicle
  • Environmental cost
  • Li-ion battery
  • Second life