Dead EV batteries may get second life as solar storehouses

Japanese firms venture into solar energy storage using discarded electric vehicle batteries, complementing the country's move to continue building more solar power plants.

Japan has lately emerged as one of the new leaders in solar energy, as it continues to address the energy crisis resulting from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. But like other countries that invest in renewable energy, the Land of the Rising Sun is faced with two of solar’s main challenges: how to effectively store power from this intermittent energy source and to do so in a more economical way.

The answer to this energy storage dilemma could be in the use of discarded electric vehicle batteries, said Sumitomo Corporation. The Japanese firm has partnered with Nissan Motors in 2010 to establish 4R Corporation, a joint venture that looks after the recovery, refabrication and inspection of the discarded batteries for safety and performance.

In February, Sumitomo began testing whether EV lithium-ion batteries can successfully store power from the sun at the Hikari-no-mori solar farm in Osaka. For three years, the company will study how energy fluctuations from the plant can be smoothened or reduced as it is stored in the batteries.

These batteries, which are no longer usable to run electric vehicles, contain rare earth metals, a limited resource that is extracted through mining. By reusing the batteries, its safe disposal is assured, the case for more electric vehicles is promoted, and storing solar energy could be done more effectively, said the company.

The project has gained support from Japan’s Ministry of Environment, endorsing it as a model project for ‘Verification of the battery storage control to promote renewable energy’ in 2013, explained Sumitomo in a statement.

The trading firm said it also hopes to build new business opportunities that will make use of the EV storage system as well as develop new applications for used EV batteries.

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