If you are thinking of buying an electric car that’s great because they are better for the environment. But, if you are wondering how long they will last, you will need to know that it is a little more involved than with a normal gas engine car.
Do electric cars last longer than gas cars? Gas engines (ICE) cars have a lot more moving parts than and EV so they will not last as long as an electric car. Eventually, electric cars will need a battery change but most EV’s come with 10 years or 100,000 miles warranty so no need to worry just yet.
Since electric motors don’t have many of the complex moving parts found in a gasoline engine, EVs won’t develop the same problems. … And while electric vehicles may eventually require battery replacement, the motor itself is likely to last longer than a standard gasoline engine.
One of the biggest pieces of FUD out there about EV’S, Fudd being fear, uncertainty, and doubt is that the batteries degrade really quickly. And you’re going to have to replace them after two or three years and it’s going to cost thousands of dollars because it’s the most expensive part of an EV and therefore driving an EV is stupid.
While spreading this myth is clearly intentional, it does seem to get repeated a lot because it’s fairly easy to believe. We’ve all had the experience of a laptop or a phone or some other electronic device losing charge over time, and eventually not being able to hold a charge at all, just like my old iPad.
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We all know these batteries or lithium-ion and that the batteries and electric cars are lithium ions, so it’s an easy assumption to make. EV’s that runs your little electronic gadgets are completely different architectures, they’re used completely differently and even the batteries have been around long enough that we have pretty good data on how long they should last.
Multiple studies have shown that even early model EV’s can maintain their charge level up to about 70 percent for about eight to ten years, under normal driving conditions.
And seventy percent is considered about the point when it’s time to retire the batteries, they are not really up to snuff anymore for the road. You could keep driving with them, it’s just your range is going to just keep going down.
Battery packs have gotten a whole lot better over the years, with different chemistry and different thermal management, they’re basically going to keep going as long as you want to keep the car around.
But the batteries will degrade, that is inevitable and eventually, they’ll get to the point where they’re not really good for EV’s anymore. So what then? This is a pretty big question and it’s one that EV detractors love to bring up, because they say it’s a wasteful carbon footprint, but it’s not quite that simple.
There are second-life applications for used EV batteries that greatly expand their lifetime and their usefulness.
In a previous article, I talked a little bit about the ups and downs of solar power and the fact that it is intermittent, it doesn’t make power at night so you kind of have to pair it up with massive battery installations so you can dole that out while it’s not producing any energy.
The same is true for wind energy and most renewables for that matter. Well, it turns out these degrade EV batteries that aren’t quite up to snuff for the road anymore still have a lot of usefulness for those kinds of big stationary storage projects.
Can EV Batteries Be Reused?
The Center for sustainable energy did an assessment on Second Life applications for EV batteries and they came up with these for use cases.
PV firming, demand charge management, regulation energy management and primary frequency response.
PV firming is basically what I was just talking about, pairing up battery installations to firm up the amount of energy coming out of PV solar panels. It’s good storing it up and then doling it out at night for 24-hour production, or just evening out the power throughout the day.
Demand Charge Management
Demand charges are costly utilities add to electric bills when your power consumption goes over a certain amount. If you use a very consistent amount of energy, you probably won’t get a whole lot of demand charges.
But businesses that have giant office buildings to air-condition and factories that have machines that turn on and off throughout the day, they can get these massive spikes and they can wind up charging them quite a bit of money over time.
So demand charge management is basically using battery installations to pull energy from whenever you have these spikes or you’re not pulling it from the grid, and getting charged extra money and losing a lot of money that way.
When you’re combining intermittent sources of energy with the always-on baseload power, there’s a bit of regulation that has to go on. What do you do with all those energy spikes, how do you compensate for any lows and relation to the baseload power etc.
So regulation energy management is basically using giant batteries to smooth out that sort of transition between baseload power and intermittent renewable power.
Primary Frequency Response
Primary frequency responses along those same lines kind of maintaining high inertia throughout the entire electrical grid, especially to more isolated communities which can run into some issues with that whole intermittency of renewable energy.
They produce some seriously in-depth reports and ways that you can use these second-life batteries, and those applications that looked at the specific use cases and the degraded batteries to make sure that they could still work in the right way.
It’s very technical if you like that kind of thing, but the point is after 8 to 10 years driving around in a car EV batteries could then spend another 10 to 20 years as part of the grid creating a buffer to make the whole thing more attractive to renewable energy.
EV batteries could make renewable energy more of a thing, which is interesting because even detractors love to point out that electric cars are actually powered by coal energy.
And of course, the counter-argument to that is that no, it’s usually a mix of many different types of energy and renewables and therefore EVs are going to be cleaner as time goes on.
But this actually points to the fact that EVs could actually be an accelerating factor to this and speed up the adoption of renewable energy.
On a more personal level home battery storage is becoming more of a thing, especially paired up with solar panels so you can just get totally off the grid.
Tesla power wall is a good example of this but there are a lot of other companies in the same space, one of them is called Eaton and they have a system called the X-storage system.
Eden partnered up with Nissan to use used Leaf batteries in their installations so this is already a thing. The Amsterdam arena in Amsterdam has employed the X-storage system on a large scale to use as much power as possible from solar panels and then stabilize the power use of the stadium.
These kinds of second life applications greatly extend the useful life of battery packs and totally changes the calculus around the environmental footprint of EV batteries.
Now, this doesn’t solve all the problems and we’re not quite ready to do this on a large scale yet. there’s going to have to be an entire repurposing infrastructure built around these things in the coming year so that we can do this because it just doesn’t exist right now.
And the same for recycling because even these Second Life batteries are eventually going to have to be scrapped and there’s one thing that everybody on all sides can agree with it’s that these EV batteries shouldn’t just be put in the ground when we’re done with them.
Tesla battery guru JB Straubel has actually said that he wants to get to the point that they’re recycling so much material from old EV batteries that they don’t even have to mine materials anymore, so it’s more of a like a closed-loop system.
Can EV Batteries Be Recycled?
Almost the entire EV battery could be melted down and recycled and built into a new EV battery that works just like new. And one more encouraging fact is that there’s a lot of precious metals in EV batteries so it’s always going to be worth it for somebody to take those things apart if nothing else just for those metals.
So we do have every reason to believe that that recycling infrastructure will be there in the coming years when millions of these battery packs are coming off the road, but there is one way that this could go wrong and I am a little worried about it.
There is something like a dozen Giga factory sized lithium-ion factories going online in the next five years or so, in fact, Tesla is building another Giga factory in China that should be producing stuff by the end of this year.
And just a reminder of how fast this is growing, when the first Giga factory started construction it was planned to make more lithium-ion batteries than all the other lithium-ion battery factories in the world combined, and pretty soon there’s going to be over a dozen of these things.
With that level of scale the price of EV batteries is going to go down, what I wonder though is will the cost of producing new EV batteries gets so low that it’s actually cheaper to just make a new battery pack than to recycle an old one.
Or that the energy required to take apart and recycle an old battery actually makes it not environmentally friendly, I mean the truth of the matter is if the economics of something doesn’t work out usually that thing doesn’t work out.
And there’s also the possibility that battery technology might take a huge leap in these old batteries just don’t really have any value anymore.
While there’s a lot of talk about solid-state batteries and Dry cell tech, those things are years down the road there’s not really anything that’s going to be replacing lithium-ion for a while.
And hopefully, JB’s idea of the closed-loop system and total recycling will work out, hopefully, the economics of that work out because the other side of this coin is also possible.
Electronic waste is already a huge problem right now and not really a surprising one, I mean if you look back over history and how much our lives revolve around electronics devices it’s kind of inevitable an EV waste might just be the ultimate culmination of that problem.
It’s inspiring stuff, it’s good to know that these EV batteries are going to have a good long 20 30 years of activity and maybe even helping to bring more renewable energy around.
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