What is EV battery remanufacturing and why it matters

With each passing year, electrification continues to gain momentum. As the number of electric vehicles on our roads continues to rise, so too does the scale of the challenge of extracting the full environmental benefits of EV.

EVs are markedly less straightforward than their combustion engine predecessors. The complexity of EV battery designs, and the absence of a universal framework for EV battery repairs, means that the wider EV industry is still grappling with the question of how to maintain optimal EV performance and maximise EV longevity. Addressing these questions will be decisive in the success of the EV industry and its role within the future of automotive. In this article we will discuss the importance of battery remanufacturing and how it can help unlock the full environmental and performance potential of EV.

What is remanufacturing and how does it apply to EV?

Automotive remanufacturing is the process of restoring used automotive parts to like-new condition. The remanufactured part is then reassembled and tested to ensure that it meets original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specifications.

While it is possible to restore an engine to perfect condition to original manufacturer standards with the right intervention, the same does not apply for EV batteries.

EV batteries work on the basis of chemistry and with the creation of each battery begins an irreversible chemical process that continues throughout the duration of the battery life. As this continues, we see a steady dip in performance through a process known as calendar aging. The other primary type of degradation, known as cyclical aging, is determined entirely by how the battery is used. The way an EV is charged and driven is directly correlated to its health, longevity, and susceptibility to failure. Fortunately, this type of aging is reversible and is therefore the focal point of the remanufacturing process, which seeks to return the battery to peak performance, relative to its age.

In what circumstances is EV remanufacturing needed?

There is a popular perception that EV batteries cannot fail, since they don’t contain moving parts within their propulsion systems. Experience has revealed this view to be incorrect and it is important to recognise that EV technology is still in its relative infancy, making it somewhat vulnerable to design faults which lead to failure. When these occur within the warranty period, and at high rates, this amounts to a major warranty cost for manufacturers, who are liable for ensuring the vehicle performs to the expected standard. The reputational risks are less tangible but equally as deserving of attention, given the role of reliability within consumer purchasing decisions.

As we progress beyond the warranty period, the need for remanufacturing remains critical. In view of the prohibitive cost of EV batteries, the entire used EV market is contingent on the availability of solutions to accurately assess EV battery health and, where applicable, address faults in order to restore optimal health. Without these, it is impossible to quantify the risk of EV ownership, thereby calling the entire model into question.

After initial testing, faulty modules are removed for further interrogation

How does it work?

When an EV battery fault happens, it typically occurs within a small group of cells. Battery technology is such that a module will only perform to the level of its weakest cell. The implication is that a single faulty cell can undermine the performance of an entire module, even when the other cells continue to function at the required level. Our dynamic testing capability enables us to pinpoint faults at a cellular level, often before they’ve even occurred. An early intervention is crucial in this regard, as this prevents the fault from spreading.

Once the problematic area has been identified, we can then remanufacture packs using components and modules that have been salvaged from pre-existing packs. Testing is integral to this process, providing an accurate way to validate components for absolute reliability. Moreover, this can be done at regular intervals throughout the vehicle lifetime to offset decline so that it remains in usage for as long as possible.

Why not replace faulty modules with new ones?

Historically, a faulty battery pack would have signalled the end for an electric vehicle. Subsequent technological advancements allowed for packs to be replaced with new packs, and then for modules to be replaced with new modules. While this achieves the desired aim of restoring optimal performance, it comes with a heavy environmental burden.

Prior to the development of EV repair and remanufacture capability, failed packs were sent to be recycled to extract raw materials to be used in new cells, ignoring the residual value of failed packs and the fully functional modules contained within. Against a backdrop of pressing net-zero targets and increased scrutiny around environmental performance, this is a luxury OEMs can ill afford.

The data below provides a snapshot of the environmental benefits of this approach. Despite the focus afforded to EV battery reliability, it is far more sustainable to maximise the lifespan of the vehicle than it is to recycle the parts. Simply put, the longer it remains in use, the greater the environmental benefits that can accrue to offset the carbon emissions generated in production.

Figure one: Graphs shows the comparison of water, electricity and CO2 emissions for new production, pyrometallurgical recycling, hydrometallurgical recycling and repair of an 80kWh EV battery pack.

Theory and reality

Many people will claim to be able to repair batteries, however, few have the capability to deliver this speedily, at scale, and in a way that is cost-efficient. Even fewer have the ability to do this with the required level of accuracy to eliminate the risk of costly repeat faults.

Much of this is a byproduct of not having the testing capability to pinpoint and predict faults at a cellular level. Skills shortages and a lack of trained technicians presents a further stumbling block to an already challenging process that is vulnerable to human error. The inherent safety risks of working with EVs and the potential for thermal events represent two further barriers to entry that few providers are equipped to overcome.

A world-class EV remanufacturing solution

We are one of the few providers globally able to cater for the growing market of EV repair and servicing. Our world-class testing capability allows us to pinpoint errors, often before they’ve even occurred, before carrying out a fault-free repair via our patented no-fault-forward repair processes developed over several decades of automotive repair.

The result is a scalable, practical solution to provide a comprehensive picture of battery health and longevity, allowing for peak EV battery performance to be restored. These factors are crucial to helping OEMs to manage their exposure to risk, while instilling confidence in EVs as a viable alternative to ICEs.

Our expertise in this area means that we can keep vehicles in use for longer in order to yield maximum environmental benefit before even considering the possibility of re-purposing or recycling. Embracing this mindset will be critical as the industry works to reduce its environmental footprint. A focus on maximising vehicle lifespan must take precedence, and remanufacturing can play a decisive role on this journey.

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