Once they have finished powering electric vehicles (EVs), it may not be the end of the road for those big batteries, according to a new research project underway at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Today, the U.S. plug-in EV fleet is the largest in the world. Since 2008 and through March 2013, more than 90,000 EVs have been sold in this country. In 2012, the United States led the world in plug-in EV sales with a 46 percent share of global sales.

With high gasoline prices, continued concern for air pollution, and improved EV and battery systems, there is growing evidence that EVs have a bright future. But as with most vehicles, they will eventually reach the end of useful life at a scrap yard.

“With about 1 million lithium-ion batteries per year coming available from various automakers for the secondary market beginning in 2020, we see vast potential to supplement power for homes and businesses,” said Imre Gyuk, manager of the Energy Storage Research Program in the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE). “Since these batteries could still have up to 80 percent of their capacity, they present a great opportunity for use in stationary storage devices before sending them to be recycled.”

Over the next year, researchers from ORNL, General Motors and the ABB Group will conduct studies and compile data using a first-of-its-kind test platform. Five used Chevrolet Volt batteries will be used to determine the feasibility of a community energy-storage system that would put electricity onto the grid. By distributing electrical energy storage into many locations, these units could provide the benefits of a centralized unit but with more local applications.

The ORNL platform provides 25 kilowatts of power and 50 kilowatt-hours of energy that could provide cost-effective backup energy to homes and businesses.

Already, GM and ABB have demonstrated how a Volt battery pack can collect electrical energy and that can be fed back into the grid to deliver supplemental power to homes or businesses. Researchers noted that the system could reduce energy costs and increase grid stability and reliability. Electrical Contractor reported on this development in the September 2011 issue.

Last year in San Francisco, a GM/ABB energy-storage system provided 100 percent of the electricity needed to power a temporary structure for several hours.

A similar application could one day power a group of homes or small commercial buildings during a power outage. In addition, it could help make up for gaps in solar, wind or other intermittent renewable power generation.

The OE provided funding for this work. The program supports research on a wide spectrum of storage applications and a broad portfolio of technologies.