With the electric-car revolution perhaps just a few years off, automakers face a looming question: what do you do with all the spent batteries? One answer: turn a huge pile of them into a grid-scale power plant.
Barring a much-needed breakthrough in battery technology, it looks as if we’re going to be stuck with lithium-ion chemistry for a while yet. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—while progress in the area has been a slog, the batteries are continuing to fall in price and could be nearing a tipping point that will see electric-vehicle sales take off.
But like any batteries, they wear out. The rate at which they currently decline puts their lifetime for powering electric vehicles in the neighborhood of eight to 10 years. It’s not that they’re useless after that, but their capacity declines to a point where a car’s range would be depleted.
So BMW has spent a fair amount of time figuring out how to give spent batteries a second life. It’s experimented, for example, with selling them to consumers in a product similar to Tesla’s Powerwall, to function as a way to store energy at home.
Now It’s gone one bigger. By strapping together batteries from 100 cars, BMW has just completed a grid-scale storage facility in Hamburg, Germany. Capable of storing 2.8 megawatt-hours of energy and delivering up to two megawatts of power at the flip of a switch, the plant is perfect for providing an extra dose of power to the grid during times of peak demand, its operators say.
If electric cars really are about to go mainstream, the rise of used-battery power plants may not be far behind.
How AI is reinventing what computers are
Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.
These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems
They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.
A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click
Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.
Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient
The test, in a brain-dead patient, was very short but represents a milestone in the long quest to use animal organs in human transplants.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.