Most conversations about EV batteries fall into two extremes:
- “Someone, somewhere, is upgrading and recycling all the batteries.”
- “Landfills are filling up with huge EV batteries.”
Neither is correct.
But the good news is that in the last few years, many industrial-grade Lithium-ion recyclers have appeared worldwide – typically harvesting up to 95% of battery materials.
Nissan Leaf’s battery issue
There are over 20,000 Nissan Leafs in NZ (and counting).
The LEAF is one of the first mass-market EVs, and its batteries degrade more than newer-generation EVs (a lack of active cooling being the main culprit).
It’s emerging that the earlier models (24 kWh and 30 kWh) suffer from more degradation. Data from FliptheFleet shows that the newer 40 kWh Leafs are not following the same degradation curve.
- New battery in a Leaf with maximum range.
- Battery degrades until no longer viable (range gets too low).
- Battery removed and modules sold on the aftermarket for reuse as an energy storage system.
- Replacement battery installed in Leaf (either from existing Leaf, completely new battery, or all modules replaced).
- Once the reused modules are no longer viable, batteries must be recycled to obtain valuable metals.
Assessing Leaf battery health
Battery health can be estimated by looking at the dashboard bars.
Here’s a 2014 24 kWh Leaf
Currently at 10 bars. Compare with the Leaf Spy data further down.
This doesn’t provide much detail, so a tool called Leaf Spy is used.
What is Leaf Spy?
A group of enthusiasts reverse-engineered data from the LEAFs OBD (onboard diagnosis) port.
They made an app to interpret the data and called it Leaf Spy. It has an awkward user interface but is helpful.
Leaf Spy requires a special Bluetooth attachment that plugs into the OBD port.
Leaf Spy is not an official Nissan product, but allows more insight into battery health.
Interpreting Leaf Spy
There are a few things to look for.
SOH or SOC? 🤔
State of Health and State of Charge.
It’s easy to mix these two up.
We don’t care about SoC – it is simply the percentage charge already shown on the LEAF’s dashboard.
- SOH – State of Health (%)
This number shows the battery’s capacity compared to when it was new.
- QC – Quick Charges
Should be called Number of DC Fast Charges.
Lots of DC charging increases stress on a lithium-ion battery. Again, newer EVs have sophisticated management systems that manage the DC charging curve to protect the battery.
Most other numbers on the app are the subject of interpretation.
The same 2014 24 kWh Leaf
This vehicle is 8 years old. Despite having many QCs (all in Japan before import), the battery has held up quite well.
What are all the red bars? Something bad? 📊
The graph shows the voltage level of each cell pair in the battery.
Red bars show cell pairs actively transferring energy to balance the battery.
It’s not something to worry about.
Battery removal and replacement
Despite lots of hearsay, as of August 2023, no large-scale systems are in place for LEAF battery replacement in New Zealand.
Some batteries have been replaced using a battery from a scrapped vehicle. These are one-offs, and unless the scrapped vehicle has a battery with a good SoH (unlikely), the process can be uneconomic.
However, there will be more options.
New Zealand businesses that change Leaf batteries
- Hamilton EVs announced: “…a full battery replacement program with factory-trained Nissan experts in this field in Japan. […]
- EVs Enhanced (Christchurch) do battery swaps.
- EV-lution (Dunedin) offers solar, custom-made batteries for home and Nissan Leaf battery replacements. They also do EV car conversions.
- Control Focus (Dunedin)
- Blue Cars (Auckland) can provide new modules. This is not necessarily a complete battery replacement, although there is mention of attempts at a solution.
EVs Enhanced 16 Blade Battery
Christchurch-based EVs Enhanced designed a new battery specifically for the Leaf – calling it the 16 Blade.
16 blade battery specs
- It will fit all 24kWh, 30kWh, and 40kWh Leaf models from 2011-2022.
- Has a range of 270 km.
- It is covered by a standard manufacturer’s warranty of 160,000km or three years.
- Has an active thermal management system.
- Has lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cobalt-free chemistry.
EVs Enhanced claims the battery will outlast the car and will not suffer from the degradation issues of current batteries.
Unfortunately, there is no release date for commercial production of the battery (last checked Sep 2023). See more about the 16-blade. The only price estimate is that it will not undercut the cost of a US Leaf battery – US$11,225.
Other battery services
- EV Parts Guy (Hamilton) – actively bringing in batteries.
- iTech Automotive (Auckland) – focused predominantly on servicing batteries in hybrids. Although there is mention of Leaf replacement.
- EV Parts World (Auckland) – Do battery changes.
Will insurers cover a replacement battery?
This is a grey area. If $13,000 is spent on a new battery – will insurers increase their cover by that much?
Speak to your insurer BEFORE replacing the battery.
Second-life of used Leaf batteries 👍
There is a healthy aftermarket for used Leaf battery modules (repurposed as home storage). This appears to be in the domain of the DIY hobbyist.
There is also at least one commercial operation in NZ:
- Counties Energy created the Revolve battery backup system. This will form part of the Mercer EV charging station, charging during off-peak times. It’s a fantastic example of a circular system.
This partnership with Re-electrify allows nine old Leaf batteries to be combined.
- Nissan Australia is using the same system to help power its casting plant.
- Spain’s Enel has demonstrated that it’s possible to use old Leaf batteries as a short-term backup for temporary grid issues.
- US-based B2U builds commercial-grade solar+battery installations from used EV batteries.
- Example of 25 MWh second-life solar + battery in California.
Scrapping and end-of-life of Leaf batteries 👎
Lithium-ion batteries are not a good candidate for shipping. The risk of fire is too high.
A full product stewardship system for batteries is under development in NZ. It will be like a battery ‘passport’ that tracks the battery throughout its life.
Recycling needs to happen in NZ. However, this seems unlikely, and more likely, the batteries at end-of-life will need to be sent elsewhere.
There are numerous “maybe” and “shoulds,” but nothing concrete. There is also consulting and feedback going on.
The issue with off-shore recycling is not so much the technology available to do it but the economics of it.
- Companies like ITrecycla and Upcycle are doing their best to process some forms of battery waste – but it appears EV batteries are probably being stored somewhere, awaiting a magical solution.
- Computer Recycling Ltd introduced the Blubox in 2022 for shredding e-waste (an incredible product). However, the only battery ‘recycling’ is lead-acid or household batteries – at $5 / kg. An EV traction battery can weigh over 300 kg.
- Phoenix Metalman recycles many kinds of battery chemistries (including Lithium-ion), with nationwide pickup points.
- InfinitEV is implementing a full lifecycle solution for EV batteries.
- Brisbane company SL Batteries specialises in custom builds and reuse of old EV batteries.
- Perth startup Renewable Metals mission is to recover “the valuable materials in lithium batteries including lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper, manganese and graphite”.
- Redwood Materials is actively recycling Li-ion batteries (see trial results).
- Nth-cycle uses new technology to make battery recycling part of any recycling program.
- Li-cycle has plants in Europe and North America: “up to 95% recycling efficiency rate to return valuable materials in lithium-ion batteries back to the supply chain”.
- Norway now has the Hydrovolt factory up and running – capable of recycling that country’s entire end-of-life battery market.
* 24 and 30 kWh LEAFs have no WLTP range, as they predate the WLTP cycle. However, an estimate using the US EPA range of the 24 kWh is 84 miles (135 km). A rough estimation of WLTP gives a 151 km range.