Alex Johns speaks to AZoCleantech about the need for state of health battery data and how a dramatic increase and interest in Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) has pushed the need for second-life electric vehicle batteries.
Can you briefly explain the work you have carried out in the electric vehicle and stationary battery storage market and what has been the biggest highlight so far?
In a previous job, I oversaw the electric taxi trial at Gatwick Airport 2017-2020. Five Tesla Model S 90D vehicles completed around 300,000 miles each over three years. There were multiple findings. The project roughly broke even, but the conditions for profitability were clear:
- The need for plentiful, low cost and high(ish) speed charging infrastructure at or close to the operational base
- The need for a suitable EV of no more than a 20-30% premium over alternative ICE models
- The need for a faster response from the vehicle service network – waiting 3-5 weeks for an appointment is not economical.
- The main aim was to investigate the operational viability of electric taxis operating in and out of Gatwick Airport. The trial proved the operational feasibility, however, it also indicated a lack of financial return at this stage and several conditions which would have to be met to make further EV operations economically attractive.
In 2020, I joined Altelium. Altelium’s major achievements in this area are:
- In 2018, Altelium won a major Innovate UK grant with Delta Motorsport, Brill and Quantum Base.
- Altelium established a Bat Lab with Energy Lancaster, which undertakes battery test and predictive degradation modeling.
- Altelium developed a battery monitoring system including secure communications with operational batteries and a Data Analytics backend.
- Altelium has been contracted by a second life BESS manufacturer to develop a bespoke warranty and data analytics package for all their BESS installations sold worldwide
You recently pointed out that crucial information about a fleet’s battery health is missing in the electric vehicle market. Why is this, and will this problem ever be solved?
State of Health (SoH) is not routinely reported by EV OEM to its customers. It can be solved easily by the OEM and so will probably be done when an economic interest to have it done is demonstrated.
If battery state of health data was more accessible, how would this change the industry?
It would be a bit like the difference between having a full-service history and none. It would improve residual values and facilitate the use of batteries in second-life applications.
Energy and power suppliers will need to know how good their batteries’ state of health is. Why is this and can you offer an overview of Altelium’s software that hopes to bridge this EV information gap?
If you know a battery's SoH, you will have a good idea of how much economic value it still has i.e., its capacity and how long it will last. Altelium can both calculate an SoH and run tests on a battery, giving an accurate prediction of its future degradation profile.
Altelium provides artificial intelligence and machine-learning software to monitor battery and user behavior. What benefits does this provide in fleet management and beyond?
Battery usage patterns can dramatically affect its performance and longevity. If a battery gets too hot or is run too low, it could fail quickly and prematurely. This dramatically affects the residual value of the battery. Constant monitoring allows a fleet manager to choose a usage pattern to optimize the battery's lifetime value and see whether this strategy is being implemented in practice.
There has been a dramatic increase and interest in Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS). How is this pushing the need for second-life electric vehicle batteries?
BESSs have been recognized as effective for several operational and economic models. However, as with all business decisions, the devil is in the detail. Feedback from end-users suggests that current second-life BESSs return better return on investment than first-life BESSs. Therefore, the demand for second-life EV batteries is increasing rapidly.
How are car manufacturers ensuring that their batteries are given a second life?
Some EV manufacturers have started to work with specific second-life BESS manufacturers that offer long-term battery supply deals and technical support. Others, such as Tesla, have not yet announced anything.
Given that Tesla is the biggest EV manufacturer with excellent product quality, how would those batteries with a 50-70% SOH be used for second-life storage in static battery units?
Tesla could either develop an in-house second life BESS manufacturing unit or partner with an external one.
There are many environmental challenges that EV battery manufacturers face when producing products at such high demand. What innovations do you believe are needed to help move the battery industry forward in terms of sustainability? Is the idea of giving electric cars and batteries a second life a way to help tackle this issue?
Recent research suggests that Li-ion batteries do not become lower carbon than an ICE alternative until their 8th or 9th year of operations due to the amount of energy consumed in their supply chain. This is no doubt improving, but as many current batteries reach the end of their first lives around this time, a second life is essential in a global sense to gain the benefit of all the effort expended to make the battery in the first place.
The other key innovation will be low cost and high-efficiency recycling and reuse of materials once the battery reaches the end of its life. It could be that after 20 years of rapid growth in resource extraction for batteries, demand will increasingly be met from recycling, and the need for newly extracted materials may reduce.
Where can readers find more information?
About Alex Johns
I am the Business Development Manager for Altelium. I previously worked in the taxi industry, winning approximately £200m of contracts. Before that, I developed a shared transport system used by the NHS and a major global vehicle OEM. Earlier in my career, I specialized in Social Enterprise development, working for a charity, a Regional Development Agency, and as a consultant.
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