Nissan Leaf Battery Upgrade Guide

Most conversations about EV batteries fall into two extremes:

  1. “Someone, somewhere, is upgrading and recycling all the batteries.”
  2. “Landfills are filling up with huge EV batteries.”

Neither is correct.

Nissan Leaf’s battery problem

There are over 17,000 Nissan Leafs in NZ (and counting).

All lithium-ion batteries degrade over time (made worse by fast charging and too much heat).

The LEAF is one of the first mass-market EVs, and its batteries degrade more than new generation EVs (a lack of active cooling being the main culprit).

As the used EV market grows, it’s clear that the battery’s state of health is the most critical factor in the vehicle’s value.

In the US, Recurrent maintains an opt-in database of used EV battery status.

We have nothing like this in NZ.

Ideal battery lifecycle

  1. New battery in a Leaf with maximum range.
  2. Battery degrades until no longer viable (range gets too low).
  3. Battery removed and modules sold on the aftermarket for reuse as an energy storage system.
  4. Replacement battery installed in Leaf (either from existing Leaf, completely new battery, or all modules replaced).
  5. 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 that’s already shown on the LEAF’s dashboard.

  1. SOH – State of Health (%)
    This number shows the capacity of the battery compared to when it was new.
  2. QC – Quick Charges
    Should be called Number of DC Fast Charges.
    Lots of DC charging increases stress on a lithium-ion 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 a large number of QCs (all in Japan prior to import), the battery has held up quite well.

Leaf Spy Pro example

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 September 2022, there are no commercial systems in place for LEAF battery replacement.

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), then the process is uneconomic.

However, there will be more options.

Option One: 16 Blade Battery

Christchurch-based EVs Enhanced designed a new battery – calling it the 16 Blade.

There are three variations they have created:

  • Green: 40 kWh battery intended for commercial production.
  • Blue: 74 kWh battery (500 km range).
  • Red: Performance-focused variant.

The GREEN battery is intended for commercial production.

Green 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.
DatePrice
Late 2022“third of the cost of an equivalent new Leaf.”
This is about $20,000 – less the trade-in price of the existing battery.

EVs Enhanced claims the battery will outlast the car and will not suffer from the degradation issues of current batteries.

Original Leaf battery chemistry is a Ni-Mn (2010+), then Ni-Co-Mn (2017+).

Option Two: Blue Cars

Blue Cars (Auckland) can provide new modules.

This is not necessarily a complete battery replacement, although there is mention of attempts at a solution.

Other battery services

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 (presumably 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:

Scrapping and end-of-life of Leaf batteries 👎

Lithium-ion batteries (such as hybrid and EV 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.

There are numerous “maybe” and “shoulds,” but nothing concrete. There is also consulting and feedback going on.

The issue with recycling is not so much the technology available to do it but the economics of it.

In New Zealand

  • 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.

Overseas

  • In the US, Redwood Materials is actively recycling Li-ion batteries.
  • Nth-cycle uses new technology to make battery recycling part of any recycling program.
  • Norway now has the Hydrovolt factory up and running – capable of recycling that country’s entire end-of-life battery market.

See more at Forbes.

* 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 into WLTP gives a 151 km range.

By James Foster

James has been tracking the NZ EV transition since 2016.

Updated as at September 30, 2022