Nissan Leaf Battery Upgrade Guide

Every conversation I have about EVs inevitably leads to battery end-of-life.

There tend to be two opposite arguments:

  • EV supporters: “Someone somewhere is upgrading and recycling all the batteries”
    – sourced from the internet echo chamber.
  • EV opponents: “Landfills are filling up with huge EV batteries”.

Neither are correct.

As demand grows for battery EVs, it’s worth considering the finite supply of minerals such as lithium, copper, graphite and nickel (and cobalt to a lesser extent).

If anything it shows that battery EVs must be a part of a broader mix of lower emission vehicles (PHEV, hybrid, fuel cell).

Reuse and recycling MUST be a part of the EV life cycle.

Nissan Leaf’s Battery Problem

There are over 15,000 Nissan Leaf’s in NZ (and counting).

Leaf batteries suffer from degradation over time (made worse by fast-charging, too much heat). This is an aspect of the early technology (newer EVs don’t suffer from the same speed of degradation).

As the EV industry is growing, it’s becoming clear that battery state is arguably the most important factor in the vehicles value.

US-based startup Recurrent is establishing an extensive service based on accurate reporting of battery health when buying and selling a used EV.

Leaf Battery Lifecycle

  1. New battery in a Leaf with max range.
  2. Battery degrades until no longer viable (range gets too low).
  3. Battery removed and modules sold on the aftermarket for reuse. Replacement battery installed in Leaf (either from existing Leaf, completely new battery, or all modules replaced).
  4. Battery modules reused as home storage.
  5. Once the degradation on the reused modules is no longer viable, then batteries must be recycled to obtain valuable metals.

Replacement Option 1: The 16 Blade Battery

Christchurch-based EVs Enhanced moved on from simply replacing battery modules and designed their own battery – calling it the 16 Blade.

There are three variations they have created:

  • Green: 40 kWh battery intended for commercial production (allowing ~270 km range).
  • Blue: 74 kWh battery (500 km range).
  • Red: Performance-focused variant.

Of these, only the 16 Blade Green looks as if it will be a commercial viability.

Late 2022“third of the cost of a comparable new EV.” Which could mean anything (the cheapest new EV is the MG ZS at ~$50k).

The 16 Blade Green is a superior battery over the existing Leaf battery. It has lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cobalt-free chemistry, with active cooling (absent from existing Leaf batteries).

The company 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+) .

Replacement Option 2: 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

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:

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.

Recycling needs to happen in NZ.

As part of researching for this article, it seems 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.

Why pay twice as much for recycled lithium compared to newly mined? It’s clear the motivation has to come from an environmental concern.

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.

In the US, Redwood Materials is actively recycling Li-ion batteries. Nth-cycle is using a new technology make battery recycling part of any recycling progrm.

By James Foster
Updated as at April 30, 2022