The Enel Group’s sustainable innovation project is a world first and has recently won a circular economy award in Spain. The project consists of a simplified procedure to redeploy batteries from electric cars that can no longer be used in that context, giving them a new life and a different function, increasing their use value and reducing costs from a circular economy perspective.
Reuse is one of the cornerstones of the circular economy, the production model that extends the life of components and products and contributes to reducing waste and supporting the process of decarbonization. One example of sustainable innovation is the case of the Enel Group project, in collaboration with the Nissan automobile group and Loccioni, an Italian company involved in the development of innovative and sustainable technologies. The project has won the BASF Award for best practices in circular economy in Spain in the category of Big Businesses. The award is organized together with the Club de Excelencia en Sostenibilidad, a Spanish business association composed of 20 large companies that promote sustainable growth from an economic, environmental and social perspective.
“The Circular Economy is a fundamental lever for pursuing our goal of making the energy transition increasingly sustainable, in that it enables us to generate value without consuming further natural resources. For this reason, at Enel we adopt innovative and circular models, and this project is an extraordinary example.”
Giovanni Tula, Head of Sustainability Global Power Generation, Enel
An award in the name of the circular economy
The project, which is called “Second Life” was tested in Melilla, a Spanish city of almost 90 thousand people situated on the North African coast. Electricity there is supplied a by a local grid fed by a power plant and is separate from the Spanish national distribution grid, almost as if it were an island.
In order to ensure the continuity of the supply of electricity, the solution developed by the Enel Group created a storage system reusing the batteries from Leaf electric cars, for an overall capacity of 4 MW and maximum energy storage of 1.7MWh.
““Second Life” represents an important experience that, if the results are confirmed, will make stationary energy storage integrated with generation an enabling solution for new models of circularity. The redeployment of used batteries does not, obviously, take the place of recycling, which nonetheless remains necessary, but it enables the improved exploitation of the useful life of components before recycling them, facilitating an important step forwards towards a sustainable energy transition.”
Nicola Rossi, Head of Innovation, Global Power Generation, Enel
Before being replaced, a battery pack is usually utilized in a vehicle for four to seven years, and still offers substantial residual energy even after having completed its “first life.” This energy can be used for stationary applications.
“The project has huge value in that the batteries in their second life facilitate an improvement in the technical and environmental performance of the energy production plant into which they are integrated, in addition to providing services for the stability of the grids served by those plants.”
Luca Noviello, Head of O&M Thermal Generation, Global Power Generation, Enel
The gamble on technology pays off
In its role as a pioneer, Melilla can become a model of sustainability, considering that in the coming years forecasts predict a substantial increase in the number of electric vehicles in circulation and, consequently, in the number of batteries available for reuse.
But there is one specific feature that makes the project truly unique: there is no need to dismantle the batteries. Up until now, in fact, it has been necessary to extract the cells with the highest residual charges and reassemble them into modules, a solution that was very costly, and for this reason was judged by many to be impractical. That is why the Enel Group’s project marks an important step forward.
“The electricity plant in Melilla is an isolated system that, thanks to the “Second Life” project and the support from the batteries, will benefit from greater stability, improved quality and a guaranteed energy supply. Another expected benefit concerns the capacity to reduce faults in the generation units and the time necessary to restore them to regular operations with an enormous benefit in terms of costs.”
Tomas Muñoz Diaz, Head of the Melilla Power Plant, Power Generation, Iberia
If this solution achieves the expected performance levels, it will also be possible to reduce the costs of reuse in general, thanks to the fact that the price of vehicle packs is set to fall further in the future. And the “used” cells could also be utilized instead of new batteries for greenfield applications or to replace damaged modules.
“The Enel Group set us an interesting challenge, one that enabled us to bring our experience in the worlds of electricity storage and testing car components. Today batteries for cars are one of the products that we test every day, but utilizing the batteries that are no longer usable for Nissan Leaf cars, taken as they are when removed from the vehicle for stationary storage, required a substantial capacity for system integration. This project marks an important step forward in the intelligent reuse of these batteries, which should be taken into consideration right from the initial testing phase. This is a solution of great interest for the future of the automobile and energy industries.”
Antonio Giovannelli, Business Unit Manager, Loccioni
In addition to this redeployment, the development of recycling models and technologies remains fundamental, as does the promotion of the development of batteries that are “sustainable by design.” That means new technologies and productive processes that are designed from the outset to be easily recyclable.