Old Volts don’t die, they just morph into grid storage.

OK, admittedly that does not sound as fanciful as riding off into the sunset or some such, but it is one possibility General Motors and ABB Group have been working on to profitably re-purpose used Volt batteries.

Since last year, GM and the Raleigh, N.C. based group have contemplated how to squeak the best use out of batteries expected to have 70 percent of energy storage capacity remaining.

Its first life is in the Chevrolet Volt. Its second could be as grid storage.

Last September the partnership between the two companies was commented on by Micky Bly, GM Executive Director of Electrical Systems, Hybrids, Electric Vehicles and Batteries.

“The Volt’s battery will have significant capacity to store electrical energy, even after its automotive life,” Bly said back then. “That’s why we’re joining forces with ABB to find ways to enable the Volt batteries to provide environmental benefits that stretch far beyond the highway.”

On Tuesday this week, the partners showed they have made headway by demonstrating an energy storage system combining EV battery technology and a proven grid-tied electric power inverter.

"Partnerships with organizations such as ABB provide real-world applications that prove what we're doing is real, not fiction," Bly said.

At this point, GM is predicting that 33 post-consumer Chevrolet Volt batteries will have enough capacity to power 50 homes for four hours.

Or, scaling that down to workable size, the ABB and GM team is building a prototype energy storage system for 25-kilowatt/50-kWh applications, about the same power consumption of five U.S. homes or small retail and industrial facilities.

ABB has determined its existing power quality filter (PQF) inverter can be used to charge and discharge the Volt battery pack to take full advantage of the system and enable utilities to reduce the cost of peak load conditions.

The system can also reduce utilities' needs for power control, protection and additional monitoring equipment. The team will soon test the system for back-up power applications.

"Our tests so far have shown the viability of the GM-ABB solution in the laboratory and they have provided valuable experience to overcome the technical challenges," said Pablo Rosenfeld, ABB's program manager for Distributed Energy Storage Medium Voltage Power Products. "We are making plans now for the next major step – testing a larger prototype on an actual electric distribution system."

A Volt battery in the lab.

GM said it has appointed Pablo Valencia to the new position of senior manager for Battery Lifecycle Management. Valencia and his team will focus on assuring battery systems used in future Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles provide environmental and societal benefits beyond their use in the vehicle.

GM said single-source responsibility assures the design of future battery systems is compatible with reuse and recycling applications.

Many questions remain

While it has shown some progress, GM has said it is still in the very early stages, and does not have answers for what would happen in the case of wrecked Volts that leave the road early.

Also unanswered were a few questions we lobbed over to GM's Kevin M. Kelly, Manager, Electric Vehicle and Hybrid Communications, about costs and practicality involved in extracting Volt batteries and integrating them as components of local grid storage systems.

“We're still in the working stages of a ton of this stuff and a lot of it is unknown at this time since we have an 8-year / 100,000-mile warranty on our battery system,” Kelly said. “ We are working on building business cases on many outstanding issues. Stay tuned.”


Kevin Kelly got back to me again today (Friday) explaining he was short on time to answer more the other day, but offered what info he could. I asked more questions than these, but these were what he had answers for ...

GM-Volt: Is this the most likely scenario GM is contemplating for post-consumer e-vehicle battery usage?

“We are focused right now on finding ways to reuse the batteries to maximize their benefit beyond the vehicle,” Kelly said. “We're also researching and studying the potential for recycling of the materials after the batteries have exhausted all potential use applications beyond the vehicle.”

GM-Volt: Are other scenarios being seriously considered?

“We have said that we would look to studying ways we could use the battery system cells for other applications beyond the vehicle like industrial equipment,” Kelly said. “It all depends on whether there is market demand and how the potential business cases evolve in the future.

GM-Volt: How many regulatory or other hurdles would need to be overcome to create a viable business models for the grid storage idea?

"We need to work with utilities and regulatory agencies to determine how this would pan out and it's too early to know specifics at this time," Kelly said.

GM-Volt: (Also, where would a 25- or 50-kWh unit be sited? If it is only good for five houses, would you put these in neighborhoods, or cluster them somewhere? Who would pay for these? Would it be the local utility? Are utilities on-board with this as a solution?)

“The prototype units we talked about (25 and 50 kWh) could be used for residential, small industrial sites or retail malls, for example. We have not determined how they would be marketed at this time,” Kelly said. “We have been working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)to assure the prototype we are working on will meet the potential needs of utility customers.”

GM-Volt: I have no idea how tough it would be to extract a Volt battery and install and wire it in to some for of box or the like. I have no idea the recycling value as compared to this elaborate scenario. Which is simpler and most cost-effective?
“Again, we would want to assure we're using the storage capability of the battery to its fullest before we consider recycling,” Kelly said. “We want to make sure we can provide societal benefits beyond the vehicle.”