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2023 March
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Car and Driver: BMW i3 Batteries to Be Recycled for Home Use


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One of the great fears surrounding widespread adoption of electric cars is that Mother Earth (or at least, her landfills) will never be able to digest all the zapped batteries once the cars are removed from service. BMW anticipated that concern well before its i-cars were introduced and has been collaborating with universities, national labs, and utilities since 2009 to develop a remedy. At the recent Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition in Montreal, BMW announced its solution: an energy storage system (ESS) that recycles i3 battery cells for static use at home.


Two capacities, 22 or 33 kWh, will be offered when these systems go on sale next year, both housed within a 38 x 65 x 7–inch enclosure. The smaller ESS weighs 511 pounds, the larger one weighs 551 pounds.


Each contains a voltage converter and power electronics to maintain a peaceful connection between the ESS, home wiring, and renewable energy sources such as a wind generator or roof-mounted solar panels.


Brand new lithium-ion cells or “second-life” (used) batteries that once powered an i3 serve as the power storage medium. In addition to providing backup electricity during outages, the ESS can be used to recharge an electric car. They’re programmed to draw power from the grid to recharge their own batteries when electric rates are low.


BMW will announce prices and warranty terms when these systems reach the market, but a similar unit sold by Beck Automation in Germany offers a 10-year warranty for the battery and 5-year coverage for the power electronics equipment.


In 2015, Tesla announced its similar Powerwall and Powerpack equipment with 7 kWh (daily cycle), 10 kWh (backup power), and 100 kWh (commercial use) capacities using lithium-ion cells identical to those powering its Model S cars. Elon Musk hoped to “fundamentally change the way the world uses energy,” but Forbes magazine had a different take; it disparaged the Powerwall as “just another toy for rich green people.”


Around 2600 Tesla-made units were delivered to customers on four continents, but the 10 kWh unit has been quietly discontinued. We expect Musk to announce additional energy-storage products as soon as Tesla’s gigafactory is up and running. In Germany, Daimler AG established an arm called Deutsche Accumotive with similar intent. BYD, the world’s largest rechargeable battery supplier, is also active in the power storage business.


That breath you hear is Mother Earth sighing in relief.


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