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General Motors: Chevrolet Volt Battery Secondary Reuse Project

Creative solution identified and implemented. This is a great secondary use for spent batteries. Nice integration of reuse of batteries with solar and wind power to supply emergency backup power.

General Motors, which makes the Chevy Volt electric car, began reusing the car batteries at the end of their useful lives. Five of them are helping keep the lights on at General Motors’ LEED-Gold Enterprise Data Center in Milford, Michigan. Coupled with a 74-kilowatt solar array and two wind turbines, these batteries now supply power to the data center office and power the lights in the adjacent parking lot, delivering net-zero energy on an annual basis.

After a battery has reached the end of its useful life in a vehicle, it still has up to 80% of its storage capacity remaining so GM is leveraging that remaining capacity. Having a secondary use extends the battery’s life while delivering energy, waste reduction, and economic benefits.

GM first displayed this uninterruptable power supply and grid power balancing system during GM’s Electrification Experience in 2012. The ABB research center in Raleigh, North Carolina, conducted the research and development of the project and ABB’s Medium Voltage business unit in Lake Mary, Florida, was used as proof-of-concept testing, market research and product development.

This is the first real-world business application for this type of secondary use battery system, the automaker says. GM worked with Empower Energies, a renewable energy services platform focused on the commercial-scale segment, to install the solar and wind turbines into the project portfolio. The batteries also provide back-up power to the building in the event of an outage and store energy when it’s unneeded. Excess energy is sent back to the grid that supplies the Milford campus.

GM has committed to use 125 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020. Renewable energy sources mean the new Enterprise Data Center building has net-zero energy use annually, reducing the facility’s power loss to 17%. The solar array and wind turbines that are part of this project generate approximately 100 megawatt hours of energy annually, and move GM toward the company’s goal. This project also is an example of reuse, supporting GM’s total waste reduction commitment of 40% by 2020.

The automaker intends to use the project as a living lab to understand how the battery redistributes energy at this scale. While the batteries can be used to provide back-up power for four hours in the event of an outage, it will be primarily used to analyze the storage of renewable energy and redistribution of that energy throughout the day. GM is also working with partners to validate and test systems for other commercial and non-commercial uses.