Join the Green Movement and salvage your battery
Lead and cadmium-based batteries pose the largest environmental concerns, so much so that nickel-cadmium was banned in Europe in 2009. Efforts are made to also replace the lead-based battery but no suitable replacement is available as was the case by substituting nickel-cadmium with nickel-metal-hydride. For the first time, lithium-ion is added to the list of pollutants. This chemistry was classified as only mildly toxic, but the sheer volume of these batteries requires tighter scrutiny.
Rather than discarding batteries, ingenious entrepreneurs discovered a business model to give spent batteries a second life. It began with mobile phones where packs are frequently replaced on the slightest customer complaint without first testing. Installing a new battery does not always resolve the perceived problem of short runtime. This will result in too many good batteries are being discarded.
Battery service centers sprung up in the USA, UK and Israel to test and recirculate returned batteries.. They purchase surplus batteries by the ton and check them with battery analyzers. This is made possible with QuickSort™, a technology developed by Cadex that assesses battery state-of-health in 30 seconds [See BU-907: Testing Lithium-based Batteries].
Some service centers handle as many as 400,000 batteries per month and the refurbished packs are said to work as well as a new one. Store owners and service providers see no difference in failure rate between the recirculated B-Class and a new battery.
Some smartphones do not allow battery replacement; only an authorized service center can test and replace them. This does not preclude the need for a battery test device to identify if a pack is still in good condition or if it needs replacement. Smartphone come with larger and more expensive batteries that make testing viable.
Healthcare is also a large user of batteries. In the absence of pro-active battery maintenance, expensive medical batteries are often replaced regardless of condition, ruled by date-stamping.
Batteries fade by usage, and less by time. Date-stamping fails when heavy usage wears the battery down prematurely. To compensate for all eventualities, device manufacturers mandate a very strenuous replacement policy and a two-year time span is now widely accepted. This replaces many packs that are still in good health but the program serves the device manufacturer well as it moves inventory. What is less desirable is adding needless time restrictions along the lines of expiring isotope in nuclear medicine.
Under most conditions, nickel-based batteries offer three-years of service and the more expensive Li-ion last for about five years. Under-usage is common in many industries and date-stamping promotes waste, spirals cost and harms the environment. Dr. Imre Gyuk, manager of the US Energy Storage Research Program at DOE, says that every year roughly one million usable lithium-ion batteries are sent in for recycling with most having a capacity of up to 80 percent.
Several models exist to extend the life of a battery. Battery maintenance logistic can be set up on site or at an outside location where the batteries are periodically tested with a battery analyzer. The date of last service, capacity and internal resistance is printed on a label that is attached to battery for reference.
Another refurbishing model is collecting medical and other industrial batteries that would otherwise be discarded. The in-house analysis includes a capacity check with a full discharge/charge cycle on a battery analyzer as well as observing the internal resistance and doing the self-discharge check. This assures that the battery has not suffered damage in a harsh environment. Upon meeting the requirements, the battery is recertified and sold back to the organization for half price. The yield for medial batteries should be about 70 percent.
Naked cells in a pack can also be used and redeployed. When reassembling a new pack, match the cells with similar capacities. (See BU-803: Can Batteries be Restored?) Also do a resistive check and measure the voltage after the cells have rested for a while. A low voltage hints to elevated self-discharge. A medical technician working in a large Michigan hospital uses spent batteries from patient heart pumps to cut his grass with an electric lawn mower. This makes green energy even greener.
There is a shift towards also reusing larger batteries. Several companies, including GM and ABB reclaim batteries from electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt. EV batteries have a longer life than those used in consumer products and manufacturers estimate that these batteries will still have up to 70 percent remaining capacity after 10 years of service or when the car is worn out. Although less than 100 percent, these rugged industrial batteries have plenty of life left to serve less demanding applications such as residential and commercial energy storage systems.
The key to reduce battery wasteland is by respecting the batteries, caring for them, and only discard them when their life is spent and no salvage is possible. Batteries are getting better but the longer life span can only be realized by applying moderate charge, preventing harsh discharges and adding regular battery maintenance to measure the capacity, the leading health indicator. All too often, batteries are replaced as a troubleshooting method. By doing battery maintenance, these batteries can be put back to good use to keep our plant green.
Last updated 2015-04-08
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