Nissan Turns a New Leaf

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    Nissan’s new portable power station is displayed at Nissan headquarters in Yokohama, Tokyo. (AP/Yuri Kageyama)
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    A Nissan official shows off the battery array of an all-electric Nissan Leaf. (AP/Mark Humphrey)
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    A Nissan Leaf on display at the 2020 Pittsburgh International Auto Show (AP/Gene J. Puskar)
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    Employees feed lithium-ion batteries into a shredder at a recycling facility in Kingston, Ontario. (Business Wire)
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    A Nissan Leaf charges at an EV recharge station. (AP/David Zalubowski)
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Where do electric vehicle batteries go when they die? One car company has a new answer to that question.

Electric vehicles, or “EVs,” promise a sustainable alternative to traditional transportation. Sustainability means keeping future generations in mind by not polluting the environment or overusing Earth’s resources.

But even EVs have some negative environmental impact. EV batteries contain metals such as lithium, copper, and nickel. Mining those metals uses resources and creates waste. And what happens to old, unused EV batteries? These batteries can last well beyond the lifespan of the cars they power. Does all that metal and plastic go to a landfill?

Some facilities recycle old EV batteries. They break the materials into fine shavings. Then they sort the shavings and send them out to be remade into other useful items.

But Nissan officials have a fresh idea. This automobile company repurposes EV batteries into portable power stations.

Like most electric cars, the Nissan Leaf uses a lithium-ion battery. This type of battery contains charged ions. You can find lithium-ion batteries in many electronic devices, such as laptops and cellphones. Electric car batteries actually consist of multiple batteries bundled together, called “modules.” A single Nissan Leaf battery contains 48 modules. When the driver isn’t pressing the accelerator, the vehicle’s motion generates more power. That power goes back to the battery, helping it last longer.

But over time, all batteries lose the ability to hold power. At 80% of its original strength, an EV battery no longer has the umph to power a car. But that doesn’t make it useless.

Balakumar Balasingam is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Windsor in Canada. “Retired EV batteries have great potential in energy storage applications,” he says.

Nissan’s recycled power packs look like black boxes. They use just two of the 48 modules in a Nissan Leaf battery. Each one weighs 32 pounds. In Japan, they sell for 170,500 yen (about $1,170).

That might sound like a hefty price tag. But these power packs could serve all sorts of useful purposes. In natural disasters and other emergencies, people often need quick access to electricity. Nissan’s portable power stations could help.

Nissan’s engineers are helping make the most of the resources God gave us. But even these portable stations will lose power eventually. When that time comes, engineers will need new creative ideas.

Why? Even sustainable alternatives aren’t perfect, but we can come up with creative ways to love future generations.

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