We’re making lithium-ion batteries even more sustainable by extending their useful life and finding ways to repurpose and recycle after use.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt
EV battery system
Lithium-ion batteries store the energy that powers our plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. Like the internal combustion engines found in conventional vehicles, batteries are designed for extended life but have components that may eventually wear out. Batteries from Chevrolet Volt hybrids, Chevrolet Bolt EVs and future GM EVs are no exception: We estimate that more than 100,000 batteries will have been retired by 2027, and that number will more than double by 2030.
This presents an opportunity for automakers like GM to make an already environmentally friendly technology even more sustainable: finding ways to maximize batteries’ useful life, direct them to secondary uses and eventually recycle their component parts. While the hybrids and EVs on the road today may have years of usable life ahead, GM is proactively developing a battery life cycle management strategy that will increase our vehicles’ residual value, provide sustainability benefits and, through repurposing batteries for stationary storage, reduce the impact that a proliferation of EVs will have on the electrical grid.
Our strategy begins with vehicle service, where we strive to minimize costs and to make the service experience as pleasing to the customer as possible. In many cases, only one part of a battery will need to be replaced. This can be done at a dealership, eliminating the costs and resources that would be expended for a full battery replacement.
Used Chevrolet Volt batteries are helping keep the lights on at the new General Motors Enterprise Data Center at its Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan. Five Volt batteries work with an adjacent solar array and two wind turbines to help supply power to the data center’s administrative offices.
When battery components or full battery packs are returned, we perform a root cause analysis, feeding any knowledge we gain back to the design process. After analysis, there are three main paths a material may take: refurbishment, secondary use or efficient recycling. We choose the best path for each battery or component based on what best fits the capabilities of the material and what will bring the most value.
Stationary applications may provide a promising second life for EV batteries. As batteries age, they lose their ability to quickly discharge power. While fast discharging is important for getting vehicles moving in an instant, it is less essential for applications like supplying electricity to buildings, which have steadier, more predictable energy needs. When a Chevrolet Volt is retired, up to 80 percent of its battery storage capacity remains. The secondary use potential of these batteries is on display at Milford Proving Ground, where five Volt batteries help power a GM data center.
The final stage of the battery life cycle is recycling, a process that can be complex and costly. We are engaging with stakeholders on this issue through leadership in the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Batteries (NAATBatt) and U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, exploring ways to increase the value of recycled materials, optimize logistics and simplify the recycling process.