Five key questions about the sustainability of electric vehicle batteries

You have questions about electric vehicle batteries, we have answers.

As demand for both commercial and private electric vehicles grow, so too will the need to develop sustainable solutions for dealing with the lithium-ion batteries they use.

Here are five key questions to consider.

What are the options when electric vehicle batteries reach the end of their useful life?

A: As things stand today - and as seen in the infographic below - there are three basic options: dispose, recycle, or reuse. Recycling lithium, however, can be tricky. It is a highly reactive element. Recycling plants capable of handling lithium-ion batteries are in the early stages of development.

With the negative environmental implications of disposal, reuse is quickly becoming the most viable option from both an environmental and economic standpoint. 

A new term is developing for this option: second-life batteries. 

Cummins Second Life Batteries - Infographic
As seen in the infographic above, there are three potential options for a battery after it has reached the end of its original use.

What are second-life batteries?

A: Lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicle applications operate under extremely demanding conditions and will eventually degrade to a point where their total usable capacity and other performance requirements no longer meet the standards placed upon them. 

While no longer enough for use in electric vehicles, these batteries still contain a lot of energy. They may contain 70% to 80% of their initial capacity, which means there’s still a lot of energy that could be used in other ways. 

Second-life batteries are electric vehicle batteries that have been repurposed, or given a second-life, for use in another less demanding application such as stationary energy storage. 

Why are second-life battery solutions important for electric vehicle manufacturers?

A: Fortunately, there’s a little time as the electronic vehicle industry ramps up. But as the metaphorical stockpile of partially used batteries continues to grow, manufacturers will be expected to have solutions in place that are both environmentally and economically sustainable. 

Second-life batteries are an environmentally responsible solution because they extract additional usable energy that would otherwise go to waste. This solution also delays the recycling process, allowing procedures to be developed and improved. 

Second-life batteries are an economically sustainable solution because they create an entirely new revenue stream for manufacturers. When their batteries are no longer suitable for use in an electric vehicle, manufacturers can remanufacture them to suit less-demanding applications, then resell them. This additional link in the automotive value chain is expected to be worth billions of dollars within the next few decades. 

What does this look like in the real world? 

A: The most common application for second-life batteries is stationary energy storage. This is because the application demands relatively low current and energy density from the battery pack compared to the automotive applications they were initially designed for. 

Stationary energy storage is important because it allows energy to be captured for future use. As the world continues to prioritize the shift to renewable and diversified energy sources, the ability to store energy can make those sources more robust and less dependent on traditional energy sources to fill any voids in the grid. 
So, what could this look like long-term and at scale? Over the next few decades, the amount of second-life batteries in use as stationary energy storage will result in the ability to store several terawatt-hours of energy.

What’s Cummins doing to help?

A: Cummins recently announced a multi-year partnership with the University of California San Diego, and its battery validation lab to analyze viable business and technical approaches to effectively reuse and repurpose electric vehicle batteries.

Under the agreement, the college will perform accelerated testing, real-world application testing, and develop an outdoor second-life demonstration system comprised of Cummins’ Goodwood battery modules. The batteries, once fully developed, will be used in both school and transit buses. 

The collaboration will enable Cummins to acquire valuable data on the aging of its battery modules, test integration solutions for second-life battery systems, and validate stationary energy storage system performance under energy storage applications for the grid.

This collaboration marks one of the first testing programs devoted exclusively to the testing of commercial batteries for second-life battery applications. 

Cummins is determined to work with the electronic vehicle manufacturers who use its products to ensure lithium batteries can be handled in both environmentally and economically sustainable ways. 

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Powered by Cummins: XCMG Electric Excavator Makes its Beautiful Debut

Cummins electric excavator

When looking to describe our electrified power applications, many adjectives come to mind, including durable, reliable, safe, and ...beautiful? It's a new (and unusual!) one to add to the list, but this spring, the newly debuted XCMG electric excavator powered by Cummins added “most beautiful” to its list of attributes. Read on to learn more.  electric excavator

Cummins collaborated with XCMG, the 4th largest construction machinery company in the world, to design and build the 3.5 ton electric excavator, which will serve as a technology demonstrator. Often operating on work sites in densely populated towns and cities around the globe, construction equipment must meet stringent emissions requirements and keep noise and disruption to a minimum while getting the job done. The new electric excavator is suitable for working conditions that require more stringent environmental standards and noise reductions.

Powered by Cummins BM5.7E battery modules, the excavator has 45 kWh of battery power. Each battery module is designed for very high shock and vibration capability to endure the harsh conditions of the construction environment. Precise matching between motor and hydraulic system creates an efficient, reliable and quiet drive system, making it ideal for use in urban and suburban construction.

On a single charge of less than six hours, the excavator meets operational needs for a full 8-hour shift. Short charge time means that equipment can be charged overnight, eliminating downtime and taking advantage of off-peak energy savings. 

Construction & Collaboration

Last October Cummins and XCMG cemented their long-standing relationship by signing a strategic cooperation agreement. The agreement ensures close collaboration on developing and integrating comprehensive product lines, value chain and global operations, creating new applications, exploring new markets and sharing resources on research and development for continuous improvement. 

XCMG agreement
In October 2019, Cummins and XCMG cemented their long-standing relationship.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

XCMG excavatorThe XCMG electric excavator powered by Cummins made its debut at this year's ConExpo, North America’s largest construction show held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The excavator earned its descriptor as "beautiful" because it won the award for the most beautiful machine at ConExpo! Beating some tough contenders to the top spot, the excavator was voted the fairest of them all, and we couldn’t agree more. 

After its win in Vegas, the excavator is now back in China where it will be used in a series of performance and customer tests conducted by Cummins and XCMG, to prove capability of the demonstrator and refine a robust solution for the market.  

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Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Trusted because it's tested: Cummins-powered GILLIG Battery Electric Bus

Cummins-powered GILLIG Battery Electric Bus

Trusted because it’s tested.  

What do sand bags, mountains, a drone and a film crew all have in common? Well, not much, except that they were all an important part of GILLIG and Cummins’ effort to illustrate the extent of the testing and validation process for the Cummins-powered GILLIG battery electric bus.  

Since 2017 when Cummins and GILLIG announced the partnership to work together on developing an industry-leading all-electric powertrain, both organizations have worked diligently to engineer, test and validate our offering. This is no easy feat, but one that helps distinguish us from the competition. As we bring forward new technologies, we do so with the same commitment to quality customers have come to expect. But how?  

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  - Thomas Edison

Testing and validation 

A critical piece in bringing forth best-in-class solutions is Cummins commitment to test and validate our offerings against the needs of the customer. For our battery electric system (BES), this means validating products on a component level (e.g. Cummins proprietary BP74E batteries), a powertrain level, and even more broadly working with GILLIG to test performance of the overall bus.  

Ultimately, like most students taking a test, we want to pass. But, just as Thomas Edison noted, the ability to innovate would not be complete without small failures along the way. Testing, and not succeeding is also critical to the process. The failed tests provide insight on the current limits of a product so that designs can be adjusted, and performance optimized to meet the many different scenarios our customers will see in their daily work. We’d be failing our customers, without a few failures along the way.  

Real world conditions

GILLIG and Cummins also take pride in validating our products under real world scenarios, not just ideal conditions. To this end, which was illustrated recently in the gradeability test for the GILLIG bus, various tests were run on the bus as it was loaded with sandbags to simulate the weight of passengers. A powertrain that can operate efficiently, but can only do so empty, is of no value to a community looking to transport people all day, every day.  

Similarly, we work closely with field test customers to refine solutions and deliver a trusted and reliable product. Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, who received the first field test bus in July 2019, has been a critical partner in providing feedback using real routes and day-to-day operating scenarios. Working with valued customers and end users to identify opportunities that can be enhanced is crucial. The collaboration and partnership that field test customers provide allows us to deliver a product that will meet and exceed customer expectations. Thankfully, the field test has gone well, and as testament to that Big Blue Bus announced that they will be purchasing 18 additional electric buses.  

Trust: a commitment we take seriously 

So, the next time you’re driving up a mountain or simply travelling in your city, and see a Cummins-powered GILLIG battery electric bus, rest assured that it has been through an extensive testing process to ensure safety and reliability. Our customers and communities trust us – and that is something we don’t take lightly.  

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

The Future of Fleets: The four keys to electrification – Part 4

Future of Fleets Zero Emissions

When it comes to battery electric vehicles, there are four keys to adoption within the commercial vehicle sector. In Part 4 of our four-part blog series, we look at the final hurdle a new technology must overcome: Policies and regulation. 

In this fourth preview blog, we look at how policy and regulations regarding commercial EVs must be carefully developed in collaboration with industries and institutions. Sustainability, after all, is not an issue limited to any one sector, and only by drawing on the insight of experts in the technology, infrastructure, and economics of EVs, as well as end-users and other policymakers, will successful incentives to adoption be designed. 

If you are reading this series for the first time, you can find part one here, part two here and part three here. 

Regulatory surety

Finding the right focus will require ongoing conversation, consultation, and collaboration with stakeholders from across the mobility space. The range of routes here is broad: long-term zero-pollution targets will set the overall direction of travel for industry; cross-industry working groups will establish proven technological standards; policies which fund, and remove barriers to, infrastructure rollout will create progress on usability; sustainability stipulations in contracts put out to tender will demonstrate economic viability and create a market for sustainable vehicles; collaborative work on data sharing will improve monitoring and efficiency; and linking tax rates with emissions will improve return-on-investment. 

While the range of options is daunting, there are already examples of best practice emerging across the world. A recent report from the environmental research group Bellona, for example, details the nature of some policy initiatives which are already seeing positive outcomes in construction, which currently accounts for 23% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  

In the Norwegian capital of Oslo, for example, the city’s municipal developer has operated a series of initiatives involving setting minimum standards for bidders on contracts it puts out to tender. The developer adopted the policy that ‘what can be run on electric, shall be run on electric’ – creating the potential for a market for electrified construction equipment. Looking ahead, the city anticipates that by 2025 all public construction sites will operate emission-free machinery and transport. 

Part of the success of Oslo’s initiative, besides the determination of stakeholders to make it work, may be in the phrasing of its policy. By using the phrasing ‘what can be run on electric’, the city avoids forcing construction firms into inappropriate adoption (such as electrifying what is not yet suitable to be electrified) and opens a dialogue with them about what can and cannot be electrified, working cooperatively on progress towards sustainability. 

Bringing it all together 

All over the world, progress is being made through hard work to bring the technological capabilities of EVs up to the level where they meet the requirements of commercial applications. 

This requires us to understand their infrastructural requirements and make them clearly actionable, to bring their total cost of ownership down to a level where they compete with and exceed conventional vehicles, and to produce policy which incentivizes their adoption. 

For Cummins, the process of finding the right solution is always a collaborative effort. Getting it right means having conversations across stakeholders in industry and policy, as well as end-users, to deeply understand the issues and ensure successful roll-out. 

To learn more, please visit our ‘Future of Fleets’ whitepaper, which looks at the four keys to electrification, with insights from a range of industry experts including Addison Lee, dg:cities and Nuvve. 
 

Download the 'Future of Fleets' report (PDF)

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

The Future of Fleets: The four keys to electrification – Part 3

Electrified Power - Future of Fleets - Economic Reality BP 3

When it comes to battery electric vehicles, there are four keys to adoption within the commercial vehicle sector. In Part 3 of our four-part blog series, we look at the third hurdle a new technology must overcome: Economic feasibility. 

 

At present, EVs are often more expensive than their conventionally-powered equivalents. One reason for this is inherent material costs, with battery manufacture requiring large quantities of lithium. Yet, as processes are refined, efficiencies are found, and scale increases, the manufacturing costs of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are expected to reduce – and the reduction of this cost will be a major enabler for early commercial electric vehicles (EVs) adoption.

In this third part of the ‘Future of Fleets’ whitepaper preview series, we look at the economic considerations for electrification. If you are reading this series for the first time, you can find part one here and part two here.

Economic reality 

Today, the economic decision-making involved in purchasing commercial vehicles is familiar to anyone involved in fleet management. It can be broadly divided into capital expenditure (the up-front cost of the vehicle and infrastructure), operating expenses, and the day to day costs of running the vehicle such as fuel and maintenance requirements. 

EV adoption can involve significant outlay, which varies widely depending on application. While the growing availability of on-street charging points can be leveraged for some commercial vehicle fleets, such as last-mile delivery vans, for other applications, such as buses, owned infrastructure is necessary. New electric fleets may, in fact, demand entirely new configurations of buildings. Charging points can however be shared, meaning that the upfront cost can be reduced. In this way, large electrification projects can deliver a better return on investment than smaller projects.  

From an operational perspective, the two main cost areas are energy and maintenance. Energy costs for EVs are dependent on electricity prices, much as fuel costs today are ultimately dependent on oil prices. Maintenance costs may be minimized through the use of telematics to monitor wear and tear and accurately predict when servicing is required. 

While major capital expenditure is clearly involved, through a combination of falling prices over time and efficiency savings from vehicles sharing charging points, EVs can be – and in the case of delivery trucks already are – economically competitive with diesel options.

How does policy and regulation impact electrification of commercial vehicles? Find out in next week’s ‘Future of Fleets’ blog series.

Download the 'Future of Fleets' report (PDF)

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

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