Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Recycled Batteries Helping General Motors Work Greener

The average battery powering a Chevy Volt has quite a bit of useful life remaining even after the car itself is no longer driven.  For obvious reasons, General Motors has been working on ways to recycle the old batteries.  One of the innovations that they have come up with is to combine the batteries with solar and wind systems for green energy production.  They have a working model demonstrating the concept at their proving grounds in Milford, Michigan in the United States.

General Motors is using five recycled Volt batteries mounted inside test racks and connected to a system utilising both wind turbines and a ground-based solar array.  The sustainable system can produce 76kW which is enough energy to power the proving grounds' data centre administration offices.  The batteries serve as a backup in the absence of both wind and sun.

General Motors' senior manager Pablo Valencia said the project was a ‘natural match’.  The company came up with the idea and then spent two years working on research at the US government's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  After numerous studies, the researchers determined that as much as 80% of the energy capacity remains in the Volt batteries even after these are no longer strong enough to be used in the cars.

According to US Department of Energy estimates, there could be as many as 1 million lithium-ion car batteries being manufactured annually by 2020.  It just makes sense to figure out how to get maximum benefit from them in order to reach sustainable energy goals and cut down the amount of waste we produce.  General Motors says their project at Milford is a step in the right direction.  Interestingly enough, the batteries being used at Milford are early development models.  Newer models could provide even better results when hooked to the right system.

Commercial Applications:

So where do General Motors go from here?  To start with, it is a bit deceptive to advertise that the recycled batteries power the Milford data centre.  They do not.  Nor are the solar arrays and wind turbines that the batteries are connected to.  Electricity generated by the system is powering the administrative building as well as the car park's lighting.  While this is certainly impressive, it is a fraction of the electricity needed to power the average data centre.

Using sustainable energy production to account for all of the power requirements of a data centre is possible with the technology we have today however there is a reason that data centres utilise generators with internal combustion engines for backup power.  Batteries are just not powerful enough to meet the power and cooling needs of a data centre housing everything from hosting companies to enterprise cloud computing environments.

General Motors’ project will serve as a prototype for commercial applications with low to medium power needs.  As it currently stands, it is impractical for heavy-duty applications such as data centres. Nevertheless, science will keep working on it, that's for sure.  In the meantime, those old car batteries can enjoy a second life as a battery backup for a renewable system.

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