MNTRC Newsletter Vol 20, Issue 1: Winter 2013

Bus sustainability is the goal of Li-Ion battery research


Charles Standridge, PhD, Assistant Dean, Padnos College of Engineering and Computing

GVSU News – Faculty, graduate students, and staff from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in the School of Engineering and the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) are continuing their research on remanufacturing, repurposing, and recycling lithium-ion batteries from transit vehicles such as buses. Sybesma’s Electronics is a private industry partner. This third-generation family-owned business in Holland MI will ensure that the work has practical industrial applications. 

The overarching goal of the project is to provide better economic value to transit operators who use electric vehicles and thus increase the sustainability of public transit.

Five components make up the project

The five major components of the project include:

  • A dynamic simulation model of the supply, demand, and economics of lithium-ion battery remanufacturing, repurposing and recycling
  • Remanufacturing process development with emphasis on safe handling of batteries
  • Recycling process development with emphasis on recovery of valuable battery components
  • Repurposing demonstration project development
  • Post-secondary level educational materials development

The first version of the dynamic simulation model has been completed, and a journal article is under development. The model incorporates a range of demand projections extracted from the published literature as well as the battery life in transit applications ranging uniformly from two to ten years.  It also considers the apparent shift in demand in the lithium-ion battery market toward stationary storage applications.  In addition, the model takes into account the costs and benefits associated with recycling, remanufacturing, and repurposing. 

Safety factors are key

Safety is the single most significant issue in lithium-ion battery remanufacturing. Battery packs must be taken apart, reassembled, and tested, which involves repeatedly charging and discharging the batteries. Working closely with Sybesma’s Electronics, the research team has designed and built a work bench to meet safety requirements. The bench completely encloses the battery pack while allowing connections to the test equipment. When a hazardous incident occurs, an operator can flip a switch to drop the pack into a sealed container instantly. A patent is being pursued.

Laboratory work to support the recycling process development is beginning.  The team has acquired a glove box for handling individual battery disassembly.  Initial experiments have shown that copper and aluminum components can be successfully extracted. This work will help determine the economic value of lithium-ion batteries at the end of their useful application life. Identifying the potential for the reuse of battery components improves sustainability of lithium-ion battery applications.

Young students to learn about battery reuse

A repurposing demonstration project is nearing completion.  Two prismatic (rectangular) lithium-ion battery packs are transformed from use in a vehicle to a storage system that provides the energy for a lighting display. The primary technical challenge was to develop an electronic control system for this particular battery application. The project will help the K-12 outreach staff of the Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing demonstrate advanced storage technology, along with sustainability concepts, to middle and high school students. They will learn about reusing instead of discarding batteries that are no longer suitable for vehicle applications, and about storing energy from renewable sources.

Knowledge from the four project components, along with the other energy related efforts at GVSU, is the foundation for a proposed junior and senior level general education course, Renewable Energy Systems: Structure, Policy and Analysis.  Advanced energy storage systems will be introduced. The course also provides a survey of the technological as well as economic, societal, and public policy issues associated with renewable energy systems such as solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass. Energy research and analysis techniques also will be introduced. The course is in final approval, with the first offering planned for the winter 2014 semester.