Second life lithium battery storage in Kenya to come in at ‘half the cost’ of lead acid

While it's early days for recycling and for second life reuse, the potential in both supply and demand terms could be really big. Image: Aceleron.

Lithium-ion waste from a solar lantern scheme run by oil & gas major Total in Kenya will be recycled into new batteries for solar home systems by start-up Aceleron.

Total Access to Energy Solutions (TATES) sells solar lamps and kits in emerging markets and aims to sell 6 million distributed “solar energy decentralised solutions for homes and communities” by 2025, which would enable electricity access for roughly 25 million people.

Aceleron, meanwhile is a UK-headquartered company which is at an early stage of commercialising what company CEO Amrit Chandan recently described in a blog for this site as “simple assembly technology” which “facilitates the easy replacement of components, coupled with advanced machine learning technology that can tell which components are faulty.”

“This means a battery can function for up to 25 years, just like you could keep a car running for 25 years with appropriate maintenance and servicing,” Chandan wrote in the blog.

The initial £51,000 (US$65,910) project between the two sees Aceleron turn TATES’ lithium waste into second life batteries at US$45 per kWh. Over a predicted lifespan of seven more years in the field those particular batteries could have, this works out at US$6.5 a year in Kenya, where, Aceleron claims, lead acid can already cost almost twice that (US$12 a year per kWh) and only last for three years.

Around 800 people will be impacted by that investment, in off-grid communities in Kenya and also in neighbouring Benin, Rwanda and Libya, while TATES has said it will use its existing networks to encourage other companies to contribute their waste lithium batteries to the project with Aceleron. Aceleron CEO Amrit Chandan told Energy-Storage.news in an interview that the project is “going to a scale phase” shortly, with details being finalised with Total.

"Our approach is, let’s try and reuse everything we can, extract the resource, all the carbon that went into producing those batteries [in the first place] to really get a value as we can and offset all of the energy that’s gone into producing these in the first place before they ultimately need to be sent for material recovery," Chandan said. 

The start-up has already created 150 ‘new’ second life battery packs from a stockpile of 5,000 assessed from TATES. Of that stockpile, around 4,500 of the packs were suitable for second life repurposing. The company’s business model also emphasises creating a value chain so that while assembly is currently done in the UK, servicing could be done locally, Chandan said. 

No shortage of supply

Many people underestimate the potential volumes, supply and sheer reusability of second life lithium batteries, particularly from vehicles, new research from consultancy Circular Energy Storage said recently, with China set to dominate a market predicted to be worth US$45 billion by 2030. That research also put the cost of second life batteries at about US$45 per kWh, in line with Aceleron’s quoted costs for its project with TATES.

While the initial deal with TATES and its partners is modest, Aceleron CEO Amrit Chandan agrees that while supply chains for a circular lithium economy are still in development, there is likely to be no shortage of volumes anytime soon.

“In Kenya and [elsewhere in] Africa we’re talking to companies that are sitting on stockpiles of battery cells. Their replacements are 400 to 1,500 battery packs a month that they’re actively swapping out, because when you’ve got a portfolio or a fleet of 100,000 batteries, even if the lithium technology is really good, the attrition on those is significant just through wear and tear and random defects and so on,” Chandan said.

In addition, EV makers are unsure of what to do with stockpiled waste, another motivation for Chandan and his co-founder Carlton Cummings to create Aceleron in the first place, the CEO said.

“So, [the] supply of second life cells isn’t a problem and the demand definitely isn’t a problem.” 

From solar lanterns to productive electricity use

Several providers of solar home systems or microgrids, including Zola Electric, Powerhive and Qinous have spoken of a trend for solar-plus-storage solutions in emerging economies to enable far more than just the lighting and occasionally phone charging and other capabilities of legacy products. While there still exists an urgent need to displace the use of kerosene for lighting, consensus seems to be that these distributed solutions can go much further in enabling "productive energy use". Mobile payment systems and pay-as-you-go are also widely used in Africa, while Powerhive's Daniel Porras told Energy-Storage.news in a 2017 interview that the African market in general is often willing to embrace new technologies for rural electrification. While Aceleron isn't yet rolling out an energy-as-a-service offering, CEO Amrit Chandan said that the market is evolving fast. 

“Lithium battery prices are dropping all the time - and this is a side effect of increased demand for electric vehicles - it’s pushing back the cost of batteries all the time. And also solar home systems, the battery trend there, is that they are increasing in size, as the feasibility of deploying these systems  increases,” Chandan said.

“As electrification happens, people want to be able to use their battery systems to be able to power their business, not just their homes. We’re seeing that as well. We’re at that sort of tipping point at the moment. There are still a lot of companies that offer lead based systems and they’re starting to switch to lithium, and they want a lithium solution that’s not just cost-effective but also that they can deal with the waste when it comes to end of life.”

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