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EU Project Aims To Switch Data Centers To Second Hand Car Batteries 87

Posted by samzenpus
from the jump-starting-data dept.
judgecorp writes "A €2.9 million European Commission funded project aims to make data centers more efficient, and one of its ideas is to use second hand car batteries to power data centers. The GreenDataNet consortium includes Nissan, which predicts a glut of still-usable second hand car batteries in around 15 years, when the cars start to wear out. Gathered into large units, these could store enough power to help with the big problem of the electricity grid — the mismatch between local renewable generation cycles and the peaks of demand for power."
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EU Project Aims To Switch Data Centers To Second Hand Car Batteries

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  • Great (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rmdingler (1955220) on Monday March 17, 2014 @08:53AM (#46504795)
    The used car batteries are already an inexpensive option for off-the-grid renewable energy (wind and solar) storage.

    It seems a shame to discard or recycle a huge number of still viable units.

    • Re: Great (Score:5, Informative)

      by taiwanjohn (103839) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:19AM (#46505023)

      Perhaps you're thinking of lead-acid batteries used in conventional ICE cars? TFA talks about using Li-ion packs from electric vehicles after they've worn down in efficiency. (The article gives the example of a 24kwh pack that only has 18kwh of capacity left, after being used for 14 years.) Even when they're worn out, such batteries are hardly "inexpensive" but they might be a good fit for peak-load smoothing in a data center or similar use. Ultimately, they'll have to be recycled, but this might be a way to get a few more years of service out of them.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Perhaps you're thinking of lead-acid batteries used in conventional ICE cars? TFA talks about using Li-ion packs from electric vehicles after they've worn down in efficiency. (The article gives the example of a 24kwh pack that only has 18kwh of capacity left, after being used for 14 years.) Even when they're worn out, such batteries are hardly "inexpensive" but they might be a good fit for peak-load smoothing in a data center or similar use. Ultimately, they'll have to be recycled, but this might be a way to get a few more years of service out of them.

        On Li-ion batteries, isn't it the membrane that loses efficiency versus the actual Li-ion substrate? If so, couldn't the substrate be reclaimed from the old batteries and re-used to make new batteries for new vehicles?

        • I'm no expert, but I don't think there's a "membrane" in Li-ion cells, just a chemical lattice that breaks down a little bit with each charge-discharge cycle. Hopefully someone who actually knows will chime in...

          Anyone? Bueller?

          • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

            I'm no expert, but I don't think there's a "membrane" in Li-ion cells, just a chemical lattice that breaks down a little bit with each charge-discharge cycle. Hopefully someone who actually knows will chime in...

            Anyone? Bueller?

            You are correct, I should have been more specific. There isn't a membrane, there is a separator which allows the ions to pass through but keeps the anode and cathode from shorting. Once the "holes" in the separator fill in, through repeated charge/discharge, the battery looses the ability to deliver the full power because it is now less, by definition less efficient (fewer electrons can move through the separator in a given amount of time). This is one of the reasons that Li-ion batteries don't have a good

            • Thank you! I wish I'd known this 20+ years ago when I was working in a camera shop, flogging the "newfangled" Li-ion batteries which were "supposed" to have a long shelf life... Even the Tech-Reps from Minolta, Pentax, etc. had no clue about this stuff. I get the feeling that even the "experts" back then didn't really have a solid grip on this chemistry (IIRC, NiMH was also in vogue back then). Anyway, I'm glad to see some progress in this area in the last few years... It's about time.

              • by sjames (1099)

                Note that LiIon batteries are distinct from the non-rechargable lithium batteries.

            • by sjames (1099)

              Charge loss and capacity loss are separate issues. Recharge that LiIon battery that sat for a year and all is well. After a number of charge cycles, it will lose capacity. It simply will not hold as much charge as when it was new. At that point, it can either be remanufactured or re-purposed in an application that doesn't require the full capacity, such as in a datacenter where bulk and weight are less problematic than in a car. Eventually, it will become unsuitable for that as well, and then it can be re-m

              • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

                Charge loss and capacity loss are separate issues. Recharge that LiIon battery that sat for a year and all is well. After a number of charge cycles, it will lose capacity. It simply will not hold as much charge as when it was new. At that point, it can either be remanufactured or re-purposed in an application that doesn't require the full capacity, such as in a datacenter where bulk and weight are less problematic than in a car. Eventually, it will become unsuitable for that as well, and then it can be re-manufactured.

                LiIon batteries start loosing capacity from the moment they are manufactured. Recharging a battery that sat for a year is not the same as a new battery. The physics in how the battery works won't permit it to be.

                There is no doubt that a LiIon battery can be repurposed and that is a better solution than throwing it in a land fill. However, with the estimated increase on electric vehicles, Lithium will be in high demand and there are very limited sources/reserves that can be mined. As such, it might still be

                • by sjames (1099)

                  LiIon batteries start loosing capacity from the moment they are manufactured. Recharging a battery that sat for a year is not the same as a new battery. The physics in how the battery works won't permit it to be.

                  I have never seen an authoritative source for that information, particularly not a manufacturer's rating. I have seen that storing a battery fully charged can shorten it's life somewhat. If it is stored until it self-discharges too deeply, it can harm the lifespan due to the over-discharge. I have stored LiIon batteries for a year or more with no appreciable loss of capacity, which is why I am willing to dismiss urban battery legends. NOTE: YMMV if you use them at a high discharge rate. I generally use them

        • by kyrsjo (2420192)

          It probably can, but I think the point is that these used batteries are cheaper than new/recycled batteries, and still provide a quite good power density for a stationary application (just not good enough for a car).

          So this way, it is possible to get a few more years out of a battery pack before it needs to be recycled.

      • Re: Great (Score:4, Funny)

        by rmdingler (1955220) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:48AM (#46505279)
        This has been discussed previously with regards to the aging fleet of electric automobiles and their need to be replaced while still useful.

        Perhaps you're thinking of a posting forum in which not reading the article is frowned upon?

        • Perhaps you're thinking of a posting forum in which not reading the article is frowned upon?

          LOL! ;-)

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        You can already buy home battery packs that use recycled lithium ion cells from laptops and cars. They are usually sold as part of a solar power system. In the event of a power failure your fridge will keep running and you will be able to keep your mobile phone charged and the radio on to hear emergency messages. After the Tohoku earthquake people have become more interested in that sort of thing.

    • Re: Great (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:51AM (#46505299) Homepage

      only when you can get an epic amount of them. Car batteries are not deep cycle, they are there for a single short heavy load. you can only extract 20% of their capacity from them before you damage the battery by sulfating the plates. so if you need 100 Ah of capacity, you need 5 100ah car batteries. and no CCA is not the number you want you want amp hours... In most off-grid applications the load pulls the batteries down over several hours, usually at night, and they then have to sit partially discharged (or still being drawn from) until the sun rises and the charging process begins. Deep cycle batteries are meant to do this. Automotive batteries are meant to have sudden, heavy, but short discharges (starting the car) and then be recharged with high current immediately.

      So you would need 5-8 times the batteries and interconnects to use car batteries than using real deep cycle batteries.

      • by Calinous (985536)

        This is for Li-Ion or similar batteries used in hybrids (and maybe full-electric cars), not for the lead-acid (which usually are discarded when they have very little usable charge)

        • by skids (119237)

          Most hybrids still use NiMH, and their packs are small compared to an EV pack. Also since they are babied so much, there's a strong chance that by the time they are decommissioned the degradation they are experiencing will be more from old age of the entire unit than from charge-discharge cycles, and they are not built for deep cycle use. Likely they will be passed over for this purpose.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Car batteries are not deep cycle, they are there for a single short heavy load. you can only extract 20% of their capacity from them before you damage the battery by sulfating the plates.

        So uh, mount a desulfator? At least one brand has been proven to work, the same kind the military settled on. But at least some of the cheap ones probably work too, since the concept is not so very complicated.

      • by hankwang (413283)

        "you can only extract 20% of their capacity from them before you damage the battery by sulfating the plates."

        You're confusing two issues, I think. Sulfation happens if a lead acid battery is kept in a (partially) discharged state for too long (weeks). That will happen with deep-cycle batteries as well.

        The issue with starter batteries is that the plates are thin and tend to crumble during a deep discharge, when a large fraction of the lead plate is electrochemically converted.

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      Car batteries are not "still viable" if they're used. They need to just be recycled; there's already very effective recycling programs for them which recover all the lead and manufacture new batteries from it.

      Car batteries are useless after 18 months to 5 years or so, depending on the environment. In Phoenix, do not expect a car battery to last longer than 18 months. In colder places, they last longer, but still nowhere near 15 years. And when car starting batteries die, they usually die catastrophicall

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Car batteries are useless after 18 months to 5 years or so, depending on the environment. In Phoenix, do not expect a car battery to last longer than 18 months. In colder places, they last longer, but still nowhere near 15 years. And when car starting batteries die, they usually die catastrophically

        Even many so-called "maintenance-free" batteries have removable caps. It's most likely in the cheapest batteries, such as from wal-mart. You check the cells, top them off with distilled water if necessary (or at least RO) and you can get acid in a packet to recharge them with if absolutely necessary after using a battery tester. I forgot to do this once and blew the lid right off a battery I was recharging, there was a loud pop and it showered my freezer with gack which I neutralized with a grip of baking s

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          With the cost of new batteries, I really wonder if it's worth it to bother with any of this stuff any more. You can get a new battery from Autozone now for $50-75 with a 3-year guarantee (if it fails in that time, they give you a replacement with a prorated discount). This worked out pretty well for me when I lived in Arizona, since batteries there never last more than 18 months.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            With the cost of new batteries, I really wonder if it's worth it to bother with any of this stuff any more.

            Well, not if you drive Japanese. You can get a battery for sixty bucks. But if you drive a big diesel pickup, then you need two $120+ batteries. Or if you drive euro, then you need one fancy $120 battery — both my 300SD and A8 take a battery of that description, even from Wally World.

    • by luther349 (645380)
      wrong starting battery's are crap for off-grid. the amp hrs are low and the plates thin they will quickly die under such usage..deep cycle battery's are different and widly used in off grid.
      • wrong starting battery's are crap for off-grid. the amp hrs are low and the plates thin they will quickly die under such usage..deep cycle battery's are different and widly used in off grid.

        There's nearly always going to be a better option than the one you have before you. Having electricity conveniently available from the grid is a widely accepted best-case scenario.

        But if, during the zombie apocalypse, you happen to be nesting near a car lot instead of an upscale San Fran Neighborhood, [wired.com] maybe you can make do.

  • by StripedCow (776465) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:08AM (#46504937)

    Of course this seems attractive.
    If only we had some numbers and an actual analysis here...

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I've been to presentations about these systems; I can't remember the actual figures but used cells from various sources compare pretty favourably to best-of-class grid storage systems in terms of price, although the energy and power density is obviously pretty terrible.

      • by skids (119237)

        How about the inherent discharge and internal resistance in cells this old? Combined with resource issues and more efficient Li chemistries than when the cell was built, I'm a bit skeptical that it won't be more advantagious to recycle them.

  • by Donwulff (27374) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:10AM (#46504957)

    If anyone remains confused after the summary as I was, just to clarify they're discussing electric car battery packs. Using them to power datacenters during peak eectricity demand, and charing them back up during low electricity demand would indeed be useful. I'm quite suspicious about their degradation expectations, however.
    Being stationary installations well designed datacenters could often use more efficient and environmentally friendly options, like flywheels or thermal storage. There would perhaps be more demand and practical use for such battery packs as backup power during power outages, as those kind of emergency batteries will be required in any case.
    Hopefully it is possible to compromise between these two, for example by using 75% of the battery capacity for shifting power-demand to off-peak hours, and reserving 25% for backup power in case there's power-outage before the packs have been re-charged.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:53AM (#46505309)

      If anyone remains confused after the summary as I was, just to clarify they're discussing electric car battery packs. Using them to power datacenters during peak eectricity demand, and charing them back up during low electricity demand would indeed be useful. I'm quite suspicious about their degradation expectations, however.
      Being stationary installations well designed datacenters could often use more efficient and environmentally friendly options, like flywheels or thermal storage. There would perhaps be more demand and practical use for such battery packs as backup power during power outages, as those kind of emergency batteries will be required in any case.
      Hopefully it is possible to compromise between these two, for example by using 75% of the battery capacity for shifting power-demand to off-peak hours, and reserving 25% for backup power in case there's power-outage before the packs have been re-charged.

      Everything you say is true, although you are forgetting a key point. The research is sponsored by Nissan who is looking at a way to monetize the old batteries. It's not in their best interest to promote other environmentally friendly options. Likewise, they can't just throw the old batteries in the landfill. Since it costs money to reclaim them legally, finding an alternative use pushes that cost on to somebody else (the spent batteries will be the data center's problem, not Nissan's).

      Nissan isn't being eco-friendly here, they are just trying to minimize the financial cleanup cost associated with the technology they put in their cars. I'm sure the nuclear power industry would like to suggest low yield reactors for data centers using spent uranium, too.

      • by kyrsjo (2420192)

        Why is recycling the batteries Nissan's problem? Recycling the lead-acid accumulator in a ICE car or the used engine oil isn't Ford's (etc.) problem or expese? Nissan doesn't own the batteries in sold cars.

        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          Why is recycling the batteries Nissan's problem? Recycling the lead-acid accumulator in a ICE car or the used engine oil isn't Ford's (etc.) problem or expese? Nissan doesn't own the batteries in sold cars.

          Doesn't Nissan retain ownership and you lease the battery pack from them for your Leaf?

        • Assuming this works the same as other electric devices, once you buy a new battery the supplier is obligated by European law to accept and recycle the old battery.
          That also means the old battery can not leave the EU (probably unless it is recycled far enough to be considered a usable resource, dunno the specifics though) to prevent environmental disasters in 3rd world countries.

          In essence they would probably save a lot of money. Selling something they got for free (or at least cheaply).

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Nissan isn't being eco-friendly here,

        Bullshit. Reuse is the most eco-friendly type of recycling. It requires the least energy expenditure. You want them to spend more energy recycling the batteries more often, you aren't being eco-friendly. The batteries will still get recycled when they're no longer useful for this alternate purpose.

        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          Nissan isn't being eco-friendly here,

          Bullshit. Reuse is the most eco-friendly type of recycling. It requires the least energy expenditure. You want them to spend more energy recycling the batteries more often, you aren't being eco-friendly. The batteries will still get recycled when they're no longer useful for this alternate purpose.

          I should have said, Nissan isn't doing this to be eco-friendly as in that isn't their motivation. Economics is.

          OTOH, one could argue that there is a very limited supply of Lithium and the reuse means they will need to mine more because of the demand for new batteries for new cars. That's not eco-freindly, when there are other resources for providing peak and backup power for data centers.

          That's the problem with complicated problems, there just aren't simple solutions.

    • by necro81 (917438)

      Being stationary installations well designed datacenters could often use more efficient and environmentally friendly options, like flywheels or thermal storage

      Except that, to date, none of them do. Batteries are already used and understood in datacenters, so this would be a pretty easy to implement.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      The big thing is, in a vehicle, a battery can be expected to deliver many kW all of a sudden, and absorb many kW suddenly as well. This is because moving a vehicle takes a lot of energy.

      However, using it in more domestic circumstances places a far lower load on it - think about it - the battery may be called on to provide 20kW to start the car moving at a light. But powering a house, the load's rarely much above a kW, maybe 2kW tops.

      Older batteries lose their ability to provide and absorb large amounts of e

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Being stationary installations well designed datacenters could often use more efficient and environmentally friendly options, like flywheels or thermal storage.

      Recycling used batteries that would otherwise be discarded or broken down is pretty environmentally friendly. Also flywheels can be very dangerous are not simply plug-in devices that ordinary data-centre techs can order and install. Most datacentres are trying hard to get rid of heat rather than keep a large amount of it around.

  • Can someone explain why old car batteries are better suited than new ones? Is it perhaps that old car batteries just cannot produce the huge peak required to start the engine but that energy storage and extraction works fine at lower currents? And that therefore old batteries perform adequately at lower cost?
    • Re:Why old? (Score:5, Funny)

      by rmdingler (1955220) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:19AM (#46505019)

      Can someone explain why old car batteries are better suited than new ones?

      Yes.

      Is it perhaps that old car batteries just cannot produce the huge peak required to start the engine but that energy storage and extraction works fine at lower currents? And that therefore old batteries perform adequately at lower cost?

      You.

      • by luther349 (645380)
        wrong starting battery's have very thin plates and are not useful for anything else they will quickly become useless.i think there talking about battery's from hybreds.
    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      Can someone explain why old car batteries are better suited than new ones? Is it perhaps that old car batteries just cannot produce the huge peak required to start the engine but that energy storage and extraction works fine at lower currents? And that therefore old batteries perform adequately at lower cost?

      Because it costs a lot of money to dispose properly of a Li-ion battery and this way, Nissan doesn't have to bear that cost. The issue with leaving the batteries in the cars is not the energy required to start the engine/electrical motor, but the range the battery pack can sustain the engine. If new batteries get you 60 miles and old batteries get you 30 miles, your electric vehicle is less useful and/or needs recharged more often.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        Actually it does not cost a lot of money to dispose properly of a li-ion battery. Unlike a lead acid battery, li-ion are non-toxic and can be dumped in a landfill. But of course since there is value in getting additional service from them, and then recycling them, why not?
        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          Actually it does not cost a lot of money to dispose properly of a li-ion battery. Unlike a lead acid battery, li-ion are non-toxic and can be dumped in a landfill. But of course since there is value in getting additional service from them, and then recycling them, why not?

          That is true for consumer lithium ion batteries (like AA,etc.) The battery packs in automobiles are somewhat different, although they are still classified as lithium ion.

          • AA batteries are normally not Li-Ion. They are NiMH.
            Li-Ion needs far more complex controllers in both charging and discharging. Most AA powered systems do not have the over-discharge protection that a Li-Ion battery requires in order to stay functional. In case of a short a Li-Ion battery may explode, thus it requires protection against overcurrent draw. Most battery powered devices don't even have a fuse.

            Despite their difficulties Li-Ion batteries are widely used. This is because they can hold far more ene

            • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

              You are correct, I should have said consumer grade batteries, as those used in cameras, recorders, phones, etc. Many of these do not have the protections in the battery pack, like automobile versions do and instead rely on a smart controller in the device itself for that functionality. That's probably why they don't want you checking Lithium Ion camera batteries in your luggage on a plane and instead must put them in your carry on.

              • That may also be for insurance reasons. Li-Ion batteries don't handle cold well. The carry-on stays warm, the normal luggage doesn't.
                Although with TSA you never know. "It could theoretically be used as a bomb if it is badly designed but we can't ban it. I know, lets let them take it as carry-on instead of luggage. That'll solve this"

                BTW: it seems most li-ion batteries are badly designed. The controller should be in the battery pack, not the device. If it is in a sealed battery pack nothing can go wrong. If

        • This is about Europe. We have almost stopped making landfills in most countries.

  • by Racemaniac (1099281) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:22AM (#46505045)

    It's not that there's no logic in that. But the purpose is just generally to soak up power when there is little demand, and to release it when there's high demand. Why not just make this separate facilities just for this function, and do it for the entire grid? why the focus on data centers?

    Or is it just to try and shift the maintenance of this likely mess to someone else? It sounds like a nice idea, but will probably require some effort, and some annoying surprises from time to time as the batteries will wear out, and will require quite some management.

    • Because they already are buying new every 5-7 years. Big data-centers use big UPS plants and those require big battery farms.

    • TFA does hint at broader application, such as Nissan's "Leaf 2 Home" program which basically puts a Leaf battery in your house, making it "islandable" from the grid at need.

      There's been a LOT of progress on electric storage in the last few years, and several new products are coming down the pipeline in the not-too-distant future. Here's a quick list off the top of my head...

      - Ambri (formerly Liquid Metal Battery Corp.) is setting up production facilities now, and expects to have industrial prototypes on the

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:22AM (#46505047)

    The silliest thing about this press release is that it seems to ignore the fact that most car batteries (and certainly almost all large battery packs) are recycled and scrubbed so their components can be reused in new batteries.

    • by careysub (976506)

      The silliest thing about this press release is that it seems to ignore the fact that most car batteries (and certainly almost all large battery packs) are recycled and scrubbed so their components can be reused in new batteries.

      And this proposal prevents that eventual fate how?

      Getting more use of the batteries, as batteries, before recycling them is a much more efficient use of resources, and the money invested in those batteries.

    • by putaro (235078)

      That and the fact that each car model has a different type of battery pack with different geometry and capacity. Sounds like more trouble than it is worth.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      The silliest thing about this press release is that it seems to ignore the fact that most car batteries (and certainly almost all large battery packs) are recycled and scrubbed so their components can be reused in new batteries.

      That's the point. That process is expensive. If Nissan can push it on to somebody else, like the data centers who end up purchasing the battery packs, then they save a shit load of money in not having to clean the battery packs (Li-ion battery packs can't just be thrown into a landfill).

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Li battery recycling is horribly inefficient right now; it's actually more resource-efficient to take cells that aren't good enough for cars any more (which have really, really high performance requirements) and use them in storage (which doesn't have such high requirements), because that way you're not producing more hard-to-rcycle cells.

      • I would expect that by the time there's any significant number of used electric car batteries there will also be a large demand for electric car batteries.

        I'd wager that this increased demand will lead to new refurbishment techniques that make them more economically viable to re-use in electric cars or new designs that eliminate the "lightly used' category of battery from even existing.

  • Electric cars still have a tiny share of Europe’s car market, but each one holds a battery that can deliver 24kWh of energy. At the end of its life, that battery could be added to a big stack at a data centre, to provide back-up and also power that could smooth the peaks of demand, reducing the data centre’s load on the electric grid.

    Van der Meer reckons an electric car will have a lifetime of around 14 years, after which time the battery’s performance will have degraded, but it will still hold around 18kWh

    So they reckon EV users will replace their battery packs when they are down to 3/4 of original capacity, I'd expect the kind of people who drive 14 year old cars (probablly not the original owner in most cases) to be more frugal than that.

  • ... and I'm all for it. Slap another Bilbao Guggenheim-ish case on a few hundred thousand batteries and you solve two problems. You house the batteries in something better looking than a warehouse, and you give even the most culture-phobic something to look at and say "Golly, that's pretty and practical!"

  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Monday March 17, 2014 @10:25AM (#46505641) Homepage Journal
    Electrification of transportation in the US can provide enough storage in used car batteries to provide half a day's worth of our average electricity consumption. http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/20... [blogspot.com] Consequently, the concept of baseload generation becomes antiquated and even spinning reserve may be doomed.
  • Countless studies have demonstrated a vastly superior and cheaper method: a large-scale FedEx.

  • As a renewable energy solution, storage of this type seems like it is required, but, in fact, transmission can get us to 80% renewable without a big investment in storage. Thus, these batteries seem like what would be needed to get 100%. http://www.rmi.org/reinventing... [rmi.org]
  • but it seems like a major operational problem, dealing with a whole bunch of batteries of different form factors and conditions and trying to harness them for anything reliable. Particularly lithium-ion batteries, which have the annoying habit of venting with flame when overcharged or overdischarged.

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