BMW has big plans for scaling up its electric vehicle (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle fleet over the coming years, which will include the widely anticipated BMW iX3. While this is great news for the EV market, the new technology means that there will eventually end up being a huge number of batteries that reach the end of their useful life in EV applications. And that’s why BMW has gone to great lengths to give these batteries a second life rather than go to waste.
In mid-October 2020, BMW Group UK announced its plans for a second-life battery solution in partnership with Off Grid Energy, a UK clean energy provider. The partnership will see BMW supplying its used battery models to Off Grid Energy, who will then adapt the second-hand technology to create mobile power units for use in various applications, such as construction, electricity distribution, and (as covered later) electric vehicle charging.
The BMW manufacturing plant (the BMW Brilliance Plant Dadong in Shenyang, China) where the automaker’s BMW iX3 pre-production vehicles are developed. Image Credit: BMW Group UK.
Degraded, but Not Useless
BMW’s batteries come with an eight-year warranty, which could mean an overall mileage of around 100,000 miles over each device’s lifetime. After this time, the given battery is officially considered unsuitable for use in EVs, even despite the fact that that battery will still be able to retain at least 70% of its original charge capacity. And so while such a battery will remain capable of powering the vehicle at this point, the drop in its total range and the problems that come with this (e.g. shorter trips, more frequent recharging, and user range anxiety) mean that it’s generally considered a good idea for the owner to replace it sooner rather than later.
Again, though, a battery at 80% of its original capacity is still a long way off being nothing more than electronic waste, and an EV battery that has reached this stage could find a home for its components in a wide range of applications: for instance, Off Grid Energy plans to produce mobile power units with BMW’s EV batteries.
BMW’s Plans and Predictions
BMW UK’s CEO, Graeme Grieve, said in a statement: “BMW Group will have 25 electrified models on the roads by 2023—half of them fully electric. We are delighted to work with Off Grid Energy to find a sustainable way of continuing to use these valuable batteries, even after they have put in many years of service in our electrified cars.”
BMW says that it has already built a prototype unit that has been successfully powered by a used lithium-ion battery module taken from a MINI Electric development vehicle (MINI, a British automotive marque, is owned by BMW). Off Grid Energy states that this prototype unit boasts a 40kWh capacity and delivers a 7.2kW fast charge. BMW plans to debut the prototype unit at next year’s BMW and MINI UK events sans COVID.
As more used battery modules from existing EV stock become available, more of these systems will be developed. BMW estimates that it will be able to achieve metrics of 180kWh capacity and 50kW charging rates by using the second-hand devices.
The BMW iX3 electric vehicle. Image Credit: BMW Group UK.
Battery Stock Considerations
At the moment, the stock of degraded BMW EV batteries is fairly low. This is because even the older BMW EV models are relatively young, meaning that their batteries are currently not yet at the point of being swapped out and discarded.
But as the supply of these batteries does begin to increase, Off Grid Energy says that it will be ready with a scaled-up charging system and an off-grid charger with up to 180kWh of capacity, which the company is currently planning to manufacture. This will be capable of providing several chargers capable of delivering a level of power equivalent to a public EV fast charger.
“Off Grid Energy’s business model has been built with sustainability at its core, from the way we make our products and the materials we use, through to the environmental impact of our technology.
“We’re extremely excited to be in partnership with BMW Group UK and use our technology to give BMW and MINI electric vehicle batteries such a valuable second use,” said Danny Jones, CEO of Off Grid Energy.
Extending the useful life of degraded EV batteries will contribute significantly to carbon neutrality efforts—should it be something that catches on—potentially even leading to a negative carbon balance, depending on how long the battery components can be used for in other applications.