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GM plans to reuse the Chevy Volt's lithium-ion battery for grid storage and has signed a contract with a grid storage provider to recycle the batteries.

The storage will help improve the reliability of alternative energy power technologies like wind and solar.  (Source: TutorVista)
Plan could give alternative energy a boost

Lithium is a great material for batteries, thanks to its high energy density and long life of charging or discharging.  That performance has earned lithium-ion batteries the nod as the electricity storing device in electrified vehicles like hybrids and battery electric vehicles (e.g. the 2011 Chevy Volt from General Motors).

The dirty secret of the lithium-ion batteries, though, is that they are extremely hard to recycle.  Only a handful of companies worldwide recycle li-ion batteries -- among them is Anaheim, Calif.-based TOXCO Inc.  Lithium is extremely reactive and prone to explosions or combustion, so in order to safely recycle them safely, Toxco must first remove all remaining charge and then cryogenically freeze the batteries.  And even then, the lithium recovered can't be reused effectively recovered for reuse in batteries, but is rather reacted to produce lithium carbonate -- a key component of psychiatric medications.

But there's still a fair amount of life in lithium-ion batteries well after they reach the point that they can no longer offer sufficient power to drive an automobile.  Thus General Motors is teaming up with the Swiss-based ABB Group to reuse spent Chevy Volt batteries for use as power grid storage.

Micky Bly, GM Executive Director of Electrical Systems, Hybrids, Electric Vehicles and Batteries comments, "The Volt’s battery will have significant capacity to store electrical energy, even after its automotive life.  That’s why we’re joining forces with ABB to find ways to enable the Volt batteries to provide environmental benefits that stretch far beyond the highway."

The move makes sense on a number of levels.  The variability of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar is perpetually used as one of the valid arguments against their widespread adoption.  However, purchasing storage to allow solar or wind installations to put out a steady power stream is often prohibitively out of the cost range of utilities, which already struggle to offer these emerging technologies at a price the market can stomach.

By reusing spent lithium-ion batteries, you take something that is typically not recycled; something worthless that is typically sent to the landfill.  And you use to it to replace something that is valuable -- fresh batteries.

The ABB Group, though, may have to wait some time before it can get its hands on the Chevy Volts' 16 kWh lithium-ion batteries.  GM promises that most of its batteries should last well over eight-years.  In fact it is so confident in their longevity that it is offering an eight-year/100,000 mile warranty on the packs.

That confidence is largely owed to the fact that GM, unlike its competitor Nissan, is offering liquid cooling and heating in the Volt's battery pack.  While cold can hinder battery performance and create dangerous driving conditions, heat is even more destructive, with the potential to permanently damage batteries.  By thermal regulating their lithium-ions with liquid-cooling (much like gaming rig makers do with CPUs and GPUs), companies like Tesla, Ford, and GM are hoping to extend lithium ion battery lives.  Meanwhile some companies like Nissan are taking a gamble, deploying weaker air-cooled systems, but delivering their vehicles at a lower price.

While GM's battery recycling initiative seems like smart thinking and will likely be followed in suit by Ford and other EV players, there's still a big ugly elephant lurking in the EV closet.  That elephant is extent of lithium stockpiles.  While most believe that there's plenty of lithium to power vehicles worldwide for 100 years or more, lithium, like oil, will eventually run out.  Perhaps it will run out 150 years from now, perhaps 400 years from now, but there will reach a point where it becomes too scarce to support a global auto economy.

Some may think that such problems will likely not impact them.  However, advances in modern medicine may cause that "not in my lifetime" mentality to come back and bite people.  And long before lithium becomes scarce enough to mandate a switch to alternatives, it will likely rise in price.  If the market has switched to electrified vehicles at that point, it will likely be reflected in an across-the-board increase in the cost of vehicles.  That's a problem that few are willing to discuss and fewer still have potential solutions to.

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"lithium, like oil, will eventually run out"
By Qapa on 9/22/2010 2:16:50 PM , Rating: 3
1 - We have huge problems right now which need to be solved (price, pollution, health, etc) that can be solved by this solution (electric), and no other solution comes close to this one.
2 - Yes, lithium like everything else will run out, even solar energy, when the sun goes supernova...
3 - In 100 years I believe there should be newer and better batteries - lithium should be in history by then.

So stop making up problems and lets go for electrical already!!

By tng on 9/22/2010 2:27:28 PM , Rating: 2
Seen to many theories on where oil comes from to think that we know it will run out. I think that lithium will run out first...

RE: "lithium, like oil, will eventually run out"
By topkill on 9/22/2010 4:50:35 PM , Rating: 3
Thank you! Are you guys serious? The world is falling apart at the seams as we all fight over oil and what it does to our environment and the wars it causes and the $400billion a year it sends out of the US economy...and this idiot wants to whine about lithium running out in 100-400 years?


RE: "lithium, like oil, will eventually run out"
By mindless1 on 9/23/2010 12:25:38 PM , Rating: 3
No chicken little the sky is not falling, the world is not falling apart.

ICE vehicles are cleaner running than ever, we haven't had a world war in a long time, and if you think we fight over oil doesn't that mean we'll fight over lithium too?

Believe it or not, oil is a renewable energy source. We don't have to do anything except decrease consumption rate and the planet makes more. Lithium? Not so much, we can convert it but the process uses more resources and power than the benefits we get out of it.

The REAL answer is none of this nonsense. In the US given the need we built highways, streets, etc. Now we simply need to put power rails in them so the cars don't need massive batteries or ICE recharge engines at all to run electric motors, only enough battery to go at low speed from your garage to the power rail.

RE: "lithium, like oil, will eventually run out"
By topkill on 9/23/2010 7:25:28 PM , Rating: 1
Well, at least your name reflects your intelligence LOL

So you think we can sit here and the earth will create oil for us to use. Forget that it took 250million years to build what we have now ROFLMAO.

I'm not going to argue with someone that f'ing stupid.

Please don't breed.

By mindless1 on 9/26/2010 11:01:14 PM , Rating: 2
I am thinking long term, like, FOREVER, and you're the typical dumbass only thinking about his next iPod download.

By fteoath64 on 9/24/2010 2:58:43 AM , Rating: 2
Good point. I agree that oil is abiatic and renewable and needs to be used wisely rather than being exploited as it is now. The bigger problem one needs to be aware of is that big governments controlled by big companies are moving the planet in the wrong direction. The fundamentals were flawed and is showing its weaknesses now, mankind needs a serious re-think of how the future ought to be rather than leaving constructs like governments and companies to solve. Those constructs are supposed to be helping mankind but are doing the opposite due to their need to survive and propagate.

RE: "lithium, like oil, will eventually run out"
By FITCamaro on 9/23/2010 9:40:32 AM , Rating: 1
You realize that China controls the majority of the world's battery production capability and the world's supplies of necessary resources in order to make them right? Or do you not care?

Electric cars only benefits China. No one else. Bio fuels produced from domestic materials is a far more long term and economically viable (in terms of powering our own economy) solution.

But gotta get rid of that evil combustion engine right?

By Moishe on 9/23/2010 2:30:11 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention, the whole peak oil argument is full of holes.

We may run out of oil, but it will be in a long, long time, and tons of oil exists all over the place. Lithium, on the other hand, is a lot more limited and highly located in China (like you said).

The article comparing oil to lithium is ridiculous.

By topkill on 9/23/2010 7:29:44 PM , Rating: 2
China does not control the supply of materials for batteries. They control the supplies for resources needed to make permanent magnets. Very different things.
That is why they use induction motors that don't require permanent magnets.

For your information, Bolivia has half of the worlds known supplies and they have recently discovered that we have enough lithium in Nevada to create hundreds of millions of battery packs for electric vehicles.

Do some reading before you start spouting off opinions. And NO, I will not give you the pointers for this. It takes about 30 seconds to google it and find out for yourself. Come back when you've bothered to get some facts so your opinions mean something.

I like it...
By apinkel on 9/22/2010 12:53:38 PM , Rating: 1
You know, I know everyone likes to bash GM these days but I think the volt platform is the most forward thinking and practical "green" car out there.

They have a ful-on electric drivetrain which currently uses an ICE to serve as a long-range power source. In the future if Hydrogen takes off or if we find a quicker way of recharging/swapping batteries the drivetrain needs to change very little. Just swap out the ICE for the alternative electric source.

Hybrids that combine the ICE and electric drivetrains will need to be re-designed if fossil fuels go the way of the dinosaur (pun intended).

Full electrics are completely impractical for most americans given their short range and long duration for re-charge.

I just hope they can bring the volume up and the price down...

RE: I like it...
By vectorm12 on 9/22/2010 1:24:47 PM , Rating: 2
Actually most gasoline engines can be converted to run on other cumbustables like methanol or ethanol by simply changing the fuelinjection and reprogramming the injectioncontroller for the relevant fuel.

I would like nothing more than see hydrogen production become easy and cheap enough to make everyone want to switch but I think we're gonna see a lot of hybrids make it to market before you gan write them off.

RE: I like it...
By FITCamaro on 9/23/10, Rating: 0
RE: I like it...
By marvdmartian on 9/22/2010 2:54:15 PM , Rating: 4
the truly important question that needs to be asked is..... what sort of MPG will the windmills get, using Volt batteries???

RE: I like it...
By phxfreddy on 9/22/2010 9:54:33 PM , Rating: 2
Go look at the analysis that Ford has used with its hybrids. I think you will be a little disappointed with GM once the Volt gets on the market. It will look hot at first but its doubtful it will stay that way. Ford's approach is looking much better.

RE: I like it...
By Jedi2155 on 9/22/2010 11:11:04 PM , Rating: 2
I'm still saddened by the lack of success by the Ford Fusion hybrid based on my personal experience with it. One of my old jobs was to actually test drive various EV/Hybrids to get efficiency data on them, and I have to say the Fusion hybrid was by the far one of the best I've driven in terms of luxury, comfort, and efficiency as compared to most competitors hybrids. The price was reasonable as opposed to the Camry Hybrid which felt far more plebeian while the Fusion Hybrid was bordering on luxury level.

RE: I like it...
By fteoath64 on 9/24/2010 5:36:01 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, hybrids will allow us to reduce the oil consumption by a third and gradually improve to more than half and this will ensure the oil will last longer and keep low prices. Hydrogen cars should be a good alternative using either wind-power or hydro-power (% of generation) to produce the fuel sources. Again the efficiencies of transmission of power needs work. All these using cheapskate components just creates plenty of wastages.

RE: I like it...
By Jeffk464 on 9/22/2010 11:53:24 PM , Rating: 1
EV is nice, but only the new 5.0 mustang and corvette really get me going right now. Volt is over $40,000 and my dream mustang is under $30,000, that ain't no choice at all.

EV's are a problem, not a solution
By rika13 on 9/22/2010 6:13:54 PM , Rating: 1
There are several myths about EV's that big green (Obama, Dems, and companies that deal with "clean" energy) want people to believe.

1. EV's do not pollute. Wrong, they pollute more because not only is the HC combustion being done (just by Obama crony power companies instead of your engine), but all the extra pollution from the various materials used to make them, shipping that stuff, etc.

2. EV's are safer without the "evil" fuel. Pikes Peak has a hill climb rally event yearly, and the electric cars are infamous for running people down because they are silent. The batteries, especially the newer Li-ion batteries, are electrically active, hampering firefighting efforts, and contain toxic chemicals. EV's are typically tuned for economy, not performance, which makes passing, climbing hills, etc. far more demanding than it should be.

3. EV's save money. Right now EV's and some slower selling hybrids get a tax break, but with electricity demands increasing due to EV use (Obama's kickback to the power industry for supporting him), energy prices will increase. The life spam of an EV is far far shorter than an ICE vehicle, GM is having to throw an 8yr/100k mile warranty on the battery, but we have many old Camaros from the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's still on the streets.

EV's are a problem, feelgood "green" stuff and political corruption that would end up making our problems with energy dependence and pollution worse, not fixing them.

RE: EV's are a problem, not a solution
By topkill on 9/22/2010 9:43:42 PM , Rating: 4
Do you have any facts to back this crap up, or do you just spew random stuff that comes into your mind or that you heard "somewhere"?

The average electrical grid in the US puts out 576g/CO2 per kWh and the average EV gets 4.4 miles/kWh. That comes out to 131g/CO2 per mile. The average ICE car in the US gets about 260g/CO2 per mile. That is twice as much if your math is as bad as your logic.

As for all the other materials used to make a can't even measure the difference between an EV and a regular car. And the batteries are recyclable for the EV. Can you recycle the gas you use? Can you run your ICE vehicle on hydro, wind or solar if you choose to? NO.

Come back when you have some idea what you are talking about.

By Jedi2155 on 9/22/2010 11:06:05 PM , Rating: 2
It has been studied and determined that the majority of the energy use in a vehicle is during the operational phase of the vehicle. Even if the electric vehicle only lasted 93k miles, it was determined that the VW Golf sized vehicle used anywhere between 20-60% less energy taking into account production, car maintenance, and end of life disposal.

When dealing with recycling batteries, Toyota has their NiMH recycling program which pay the owners for their old parts. For example


Originally Posted by Bill Kwong

To ensure that hybrid batteries are returned to Toyota, each battery has a phone number on it to call for recycling information. Salvage companies that want to get a battery recycled can present it to any Toyota dealer and receive a $150 core reward.

Toyota has been recycling NiMH batteries since the RAV4 Electric Vehicle was introduced in 1998. Every part of the battery, from the precious metals to the plastic, plates, steel case and the wiring, are recycled or processed for disposal.

At the recycler, the battery modules are separated from the wire harness, controller and metal shell (all common materials that are recycled).

Using a first generation Prius battery as an example:

After the above mentioned parts are removed, there are 89 pounds of batteries.
The plates are removed from the cases leaving 11 pounds of plastic cases and 78 pounds of plates/chemicals/and absorbent materials.
The plastic cases (Polypropylene) are recycled similar to any other consumer plastic.
Of the remaining 78 pounds, we extract 32 pounds of nickel that is sold into the steel industry as an alloy to make stainless steel, four pounds of cobalt that is used in a variety of industries -- other batteries and super alloys, and five pounds of common alloy steel (terminals and intercell connectors).
The remaining materials and chemicals are processed for recycling or disposed in an environmentally friendly fashion following local, state, and federal regulations.

RE: EV's are a problem, not a solution
By mindless1 on 9/23/2010 1:06:09 PM , Rating: 2
Don't be fooled, CO2 is not a problem. Plants and diatoms are solar powered fuel sources that consume it or didn't you know this? Yes this is recycling, where do you think oil comes from? There is an answer to your supposed CO2 problem that is so simple and obvious, but the special interest groups aren't interested since they don't profit from that.

The batteries on the other hand are not a complete recycling cycle, they are not put back to use to make more batteries so there is clearly a finite end to that cycle at which point it is not cost or energy effective to chemically regain the lithium for battery reuse.

As for the materials used, if we treat the model of an ICE car the same as with an electric (treated well), the ICE car will last over 20 years while the electric is considered totaled at about 10 years old because of replacement battery cost. This means you might as well compare two electric cars with one ICE, nevermind that electric cars are trying to shave weight off which all else being equal will make them wear out, or be damaged at greater rates which again increases the material and recycling burden. Don't believe it? At least in the US, ICE cars pretty much prove it, while small cars have sold in greater number due to lower cost, the older and older generations of cars still on the road tend to be larger and larger the older they are with only the exception of certain very popular cars like a Honda Civic, Honda Accord, etc. which only appear to be a large population because they sold at high rate.

As for what products and product components in your culture that can be recycled, a lot more of them could be recycled but aren't recycled, so idealizing about recycling electric cars is a biased and flawed argument until it actually happens the vast majority of the time.

As for your insults to the prior poster, please grow up and act like an adult. Thanks.

RE: EV's are a problem, not a solution
By NLite on 9/23/2010 4:34:40 PM , Rating: 2
...would love to see your brilliant solution to the CO2 issue...based on your statement about plants saving us from our CO2 nightmare I guess you support the protection of the rainforests and have joined your local activist slow-growth group to stop suburban sprawl from eating up what's left of America's countryside...

By mindless1 on 9/23/2010 6:30:48 PM , Rating: 2
Oh geeze, another alarmist nut.

There is no "nightmare" to be saved from! The earth will warm and cool to extents far out of our control, just as it always has, regardless of minor changes in CO2.

I do support protecting woodlands, BUT I do not support imposing things upon others. I would not clear a wooded lot to build a home for myself, but I respect the rights of land owners to use their land as they see fit, and respect them enough as people not to try and trust my way of life upon them.

does nto really add up
By HHCosmin on 9/22/2010 12:55:45 PM , Rating: 2
well... i believe that extracting lithium ore, transporting, purifying... to get to the pure lithium is not really an easy process. don't really undestand how recycling lithium batteries (that have high lithium density) can be harder than extracting lithium from nature. it is very good that the batteries are reused but i think recycling is worth it and cannot be more expensive than mining and processing lithium ore.

RE: does nto really add up
By tng on 9/22/2010 2:24:14 PM , Rating: 2
Or maybe it does....

They really didn't get to detailed about why it can't be recycled, just that it can't be used for batteries again.

Also from what they did describe it sounds very expensive for what they do recover. Cryogenic processes are not cheap.

RE: does nto really add up
By mindless1 on 9/23/2010 12:33:25 PM , Rating: 2
BUT, we are only delaying the inevitable by a small number of years.

The batteries are still degrading and will become unviable for grid storage in a few more years, so they STILL will be recycled later. It won't be safe to allow the quantity our population will consume to be put into landfills once the electric car is in (almost) every garage, nor could we throw away lithium that can be reused when there is a finite supply economical to use.

GM would like you to forget about that inconvenient fact and suggest a poor "green" energy alternative as bonus instead of seeing it for what it is, more money wasted instead of spent on the nuclear reactors we'll have to have anyway.

RE: does nto really add up
By tng on 9/23/2010 1:47:51 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with you there, as I posted below, what happens when the batteries are no longer viable for the secondary use? Evidently you can't recycle them, so they get trashed? Yeh, in the long run that is really "Green".

By MeesterNid on 9/22/2010 2:05:27 PM , Rating: 2
There is a huge assumption here, that being that there will be a non-null set of spent Volt batteries which relies on a tenuous assertion that people would buy Volts and drive them long enough for the batteries to be depleted. Otherwise this is simply an exercise in academic lip smacking.

RE: Perhaps...
By mindless1 on 9/23/2010 1:15:25 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps, but we do know they are going to make the batteries and once made, even if they didn't sell any volts there would be these degraded batteries to do something with a few years later.

There wasn't an assumption about enough batteries to eliminate the need for other battery sources if we construct more wind generators than we have a supply of used volt batteries for, only that it is a potential use for the old batteries.

I'm not suggesting that I support this idea of theirs, personally I feel any wide and large scale use of batteries in cars should depend on a battery chemistry we can cost effectively completely recycle to make new batteries even though the driving range would suffer. In other worlds, try as they might the electric car really isn't ready for our culture except as a niche vehicle, it takes infrastructure to support them instead of only nice ideas and concepts about what the future might be like.

RE: Perhaps...
By NLite on 9/23/2010 4:28:50 PM , Rating: 2
Do you also insist that the aluminum from your drink can is only recycled into another can? Or insist that your plastic bottle cannot be used to make polarfleece coats only more bottles? Or that the gold reclaimed from your old cell phone can only be used for more cell phones? Perhaps you should stop arguing with others' ideas and instead see how you can help make your country great again...

RE: Perhaps...
By mindless1 on 9/23/2010 6:24:59 PM , Rating: 2
BUT, aluminum CAN be recycled into another can, or for many many things, or the can could be made from another material.

See how I can help make my country great again how? By jumping on the electric car bandwagon? By choosing to again import something crucial to transportation, lithium for electric cars?

Perhaps you should stop telling people not to voice their arguments, what makes the US great is we don't like censorship.

edit request
By Digimonkey on 9/22/2010 12:24:55 PM , Rating: 4
so in order to "safely" recycle them "safely"

You can safely remove one of those quoted words.

RE: edit request
By tastyratz on 9/22/2010 1:53:30 PM , Rating: 2
I take yours and raise you 1 more.
"And even then, the lithium recovered can't be reused effectively recovered for reuse in batteries"

Does dailytech have a policy against drinking?

I think its safer he doesn't reuse other words.

Something is way wrong here
By tjr508 on 9/22/2010 11:35:27 PM , Rating: 2
GM must be planning on a ton of these things failing before warranty to have ideas like this. Nobody in their right mind is going to dump $15k on a $10k car after 100,000 miles to get an extra 10 miles of range. The best bet is to make these batteries easily refurbishable (taking out problematic cells and replacing with less problematic cells). An old yet refurbished battery will never preform like new but could be a great investment for someone whose battery completely quit on them and they are OK with 60% of the original range.

RE: Something is way wrong here
By mindless1 on 9/23/2010 1:23:03 PM , Rating: 2
All the cells degrade, it's not as though only a few failing is the problem and even if it were, putting some new cells in with the degraded ones would be a perpetual maintenance issue once the car became old enough that any failed.

Think of it like the batteries in your TV remote control. If it takes 2 x AAA and you put in two new batteries initially, when it stops working do you take out the weaker of the two batteries and replace only it, or do you replace them both?

I do however agree with part of your argument. Cars that are totaled at less than ~8 years old will have used but still viable batteries that could be resold to people who want a cost effective alternative to buying a new battery, to replace the old one in their 10 year old car.

sounds possible
By semo on 9/22/2010 12:01:36 PM , Rating: 2
if they can make this work it sounds good.

By thermal regulating their lithium-ions with liquid-cooling (much like gaming rig makers do with CPUs and GPUs)

or much more like regular car makers do with ICEs...

RV Use
By Spuke on 9/22/2010 12:46:18 PM , Rating: 2
A few RVers are hoping that with more EV's coming onto the market, that maybe we could pick up their old battery packs and use them instead of the current lead acids. Sure, they're pretty heavy but large trailers and most motorhomes could absorb the weight and have a ton of energy storage. It seems obvious but are these batteries happy with large current discharges?

What happens after....
By tng on 9/22/2010 2:18:40 PM , Rating: 2
So they are reused by someone that does not worry that they are not brand new.

Surely they will eventually wear out, right? I guess they just go into a landfill? How many people with medical conditions are there out there?

How about if...
By tech4tac on 9/22/2010 3:45:43 PM , Rating: 2
these EV manufacturers got together with the electronics industry and standardized the size and voltages of the battery packs (capacity could vary). That way the packs could be exchanged between different devices and vehicles.

For instance, you'd use say 50 packs chained together for your heavy duty truck. When they were no longer suitable for the truck, you could use 2 for a UPS unit, 20 for your solar panel system, and the rest for your local commuter car. They could easily be mass produced, cost would drop, and adoption would rise.

Lithium depletion
By blufire on 9/22/2010 4:41:54 PM , Rating: 2
Although battery/power storage tech moves relatively slowly, I think we'll find an alternative to lithium-based power storage within 100 years.

"Plenty of Lithium?"
By DaveLessnau on 9/22/2010 5:56:30 PM , Rating: 2
Plenty of Lithium? Well, not according to this:

From their Executive Summary:

1. This report confirms our previous assessment that realistically achievable Lithium Carbonate production will be sufficient for only a small fraction of future PHEV and EV global market requirements, that demand from the portable electronics sector will absorb much of the planned production increases in the next decade and that other battery technologies that use unconstrained resources should be developed for the mass automotive market.

2. This report shows that the major economically recoverable Lithium Brine Reserves are lower than previously estimated at only 4 million tonnes of Lithium.

3. This report confirms that mass production of Lithium Carbonate is not environmentally sound, it will cause irreparable ecological damage to ecosystems that should be protected and that Lilon propulsion is incompatible with the notion of the “Green Car”.

4. This report confirms that the highly focused geographical concentration of Lithium production will exacerbate the already strained geopolitical relations between Latin America and the USA.

The actual document is very interesting reading.

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