GenPlus, a renewable company in Singapore, is developing sustainable ways to keep batteries going after they’ve been decommissioned from EVs
What happens to the battery packs in electric vehicles in Singapore after they’ve reached the end of their useful life? How long can they really last? And does how you drive the car affect the battery packs’ charge-cycle life expectancy?
A battery and energy specialist firm in Singapore has some of these answers, and is pioneering the reuse of decommissioned EV batteries for other industrial purposes to extend the lifespan of the battery cells. Headquartered in Singapore, GenPlus has been in the business of building electrical energy storage systems for applications in Southeast Asia since 2013.
GenPlus’ managing director Lim Ming Chiat gave us some insights on the inner workings of a typical electric vehicle’s battery packs and how reusing them for other applications could be an efficient way forward for the EV industry here in the coming years.
So how long does an electric car’s battery pack last?
“First up, it’s important to realise that rechargeable battery technology has made a lot of progress in the last 20 years,” says Lim. “As it now stands, the most common types of cells found in electric vehicles are lithium-ion, but that’s not all. Li-ion batteries can be further categorised as lithium manganese cobalt oxide, nickel cobalt aluminum, lithium iron phosphate, and lithium titanate-oxide. Their performance characteristics all differ slightly and that’s why car makers have different recommendations on how to get the best from their individual electric cars.”
All the gloomy predictions about batteries in EVs giving up after a short time are now a thing of the past and the technology is still making large leaps ahead, Lim notes. His firm has tested plenty of batteries in EV and other industrial applications, and he noted that EV batteries are always of “a very high quality”, and also almost always very durable.
Petrol-electric hybrid vehicles have also been in use for decades now with very low failure rates so it’s safe to say that the myth of weak electric car batteries being just that. As it stands now, Lim notes that the battery packs do last for at least as long as the manufacturers claim that they do. In cases of petrol-electric hybrids like the legendary Toyota Prius, that’s around a decade.
“However, a little known fact is that how you drive an electric vehicle can affect battery life and long term performance,” he adds. “In normal commuting it’s not an issue, but if a car is driven hard very often with heavy acceleration, it can eventually wear out the battery packs prematurely. This is because accelerating a car quickly puts a large amperage draw and load on the battery cells, stressing them quite a bit. Commercial electric vehicles such as minibuses are not designed for prolonged quick acceleration, but high performance electric sports cars will typically be built with more durable battery packs.”
He notes that optimal charging cycles are also based on battery chemistry which is why electric cars almost always have their own internal battery management systems to get the best balance between lifespan and performance.
What happens to discarded EV battery packs in Singapore?
Lim explains that when a vehicle reaches the end of its usable life or when faulty battery packs need to be replaced, They are typically picked up by a contracted e-waste disposal or recycling company for processing.
He acknowledged that in the past, batteries of all types were just sent off to landfills, which was both costly and bad for the environment.
“Battery cells have rare earth metals in them and these are finite resources, you simply can’t synthesise these in a factory. As such, nowadays more batteries are sent for disassembly at the end-of-life stage. The rare components and precious elements are recycled. It’s a costly process as it is labour intensive, so we are working on solution to reuse the retired batteries from electric vehicles for other applications,” Lim tells us.
Instead of going straight to e-waste recycling, used EV batteries are tested and checked by GenPlus. If they are still in good condition they are reused in less demanding roles where they can be effective for up to another five years depending on the environment. Besides Singapore, GenPlus is also recovering EV batteries from vehicles in the Southeast Asian region.
“This actually reduces the overall carbon footprint because the batteries get a second life,” says Lim. “It’s also cheaper for the workshops too because it costs more to send the batteries off for recycling. A repurposing provider like GenPlus simply takes over the batteries, and after extensive testing, the packs are typically used for energy storage systems.”
He shares that one of the applications under development is to use the batteries to provide additional power supplies for charging commercial electric vehicle fleets. The cells can be topped up via the grid or solar panels, then deliver extra power alongside the electric mains during high drain periods. It’s not a complete replacement for mains power supplies, but it helps to keep the charging voltage stable while reducing draw from the grid. Batteries used this way are typically less stressed than in high drain situations like powering an EV, so they can still deliver plenty of life in these applications.
So who do you call to dump old EV batteries?
“That’s the job of the e-waste recycling firms,” says Lim. “They have the specialised sorting and deconstruction facilities to recover the rare earth metals from expended batteries. At GenPluse, we draw up a contract, where the owner of the consigned batteries agree to allow their battery to be repurposed. We only repurpose batteries designated for reuse. It’s cheaper for all parties in the long run, and much more sustainable than tearing up batteries that still have usable life in them. Of course, at the end of it all the batteries will have to be recycled, but repurposing those taken from EVs does give the batteries the potential for around five years of additional life, in useful energy applications. This reduces the carbon footprint of the cars they were pulled from by quite a fair amount.”