AN EFFICIENT BATTERY has always been one of the most crucial parts of a successful electric vehicle (EV). It is a strong determinant of the EV’s driving range, influences driving robustness, and can even be tapped for auxiliary purposes such as feeding energy into a grid.
And while in this era of alarming climate change, as EVs have slowly but surely crept into the mainstream of mobility solutions, their batteries have often been pointed out by critics as a likely source of new hazardous waste to be emptied onto the earth.
And I think Nissan Motor Corp.’s engineers stayed ahead of their game by already keeping issues of sustainability top of mind, even as early as back when they were still drafting the technical plans for the first-generation Nissan Leaf. If you will remember, the Nissan Leaf was first launched in Japan and the United States back in 2010 — and it has since been acknowledged as the car model that democratized EVs in the global consumer market.
Now, over a decade later, Nissan’s think tank continues to research and explore various possibilities of how their EV batteries could continue to be useful, even way beyond the lifetime of the original car that it powered. Yes, this means they’re looking at continuing the productive lifetime of their EV batteries, rather than simply disposing of them and harvesting their scrap value.
As a matter of fact, even several months before the very first Nissan Leaf was launched in Japan in 2010, Nissan already forged a partnership with Sumitomo Corp. in order to create the 4R Energy Corp. The goal of the said company is to relentlessly develop new technologies and infrastructure that would enable Nissan to refabricate, recycle, resell, and reuse its EV batteries. Its CEO Eiji Makino shared, “We knew that when it came to an EV, the recycling solution had to be more clever than the norm and have distinct benefits for EV owners. Simply recycling an old car for scrap metal wouldn’t be good enough.”
If you think about it, the typical lifespan of the first EVs were estimated at about 13 years. For the first-gen Nissan Leaf, that time has come now — this 2023. Therefore, it is expected that some of these EV batteries are coming to the end of their useful life in a car. And 4R Energy Corp. says that it is now ready to process them.
4R Energy Corp. explains that they first have to grade the used battery to see whether the components are still almost good as new (which would earn it a grade of A) or whether the components are more worn, which would earn it a grade of B or C, and so on. Basically, A-grade components can still be reused in the making of new, high-performance battery units for new EVs. B-grade components qualify for applications in industrial machinery, such as forklifts. C-grade components can still find use as part of stationary units that store and supply backup power — say, for example, as a backup energy source for lights and refrigerators in a convenience store in the event of a blackout. According to 4R Energy Corp., all these “recovered and reused” batteries are estimated to give another 10 to 15 years of productive life. Therefore, the useful life span of the batteries are further extended, compared to the original thought of scrapping them after their original end-of-life aboard an EV.
From a more utilitarian perspective, it also gives EV owners a greater return on investment when they know that they can still sell their old EV batteries at a certain value. It adds to the overall, long-term savings computation that would justify the initial, higher acquisition price of a good EV (instead of a traditional, internal combustion vehicle).
In case you were wondering, 4R Energy Corp. gets its name from these four Rs: recycle, refabricate, reuse, and resell. These four concepts aiming for sustainability will be especially important for the next generation of EVs that Nissan will be producing. We are already familiar with the all-electric Nissan Ariya — which is now a production model — but that the brand first showcased during the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show. I remember seeing it up close as a futuristic concept car back then, which to many people’s pleasant surprise, transformed into an actual production car earlier than they expected.
This impressive topic and more were all brilliantly discussed during the 2023 Nissan Futures event held last month at the Nissan Global Headquarters in Japan.