Duke Energy exploring other uses for electric-vehicle batteries

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Finding alternative energy uses for lithium-ion batteries no longer strong enough to power plug-in electric vehicles is the aim of a new partnership between Duke Energy Corp. and a Japanese firm.

The North Carolina-based utility and Itochu Corp. announced an agreement Tuesday morning to evaluate and test “reuse” applications for electric vehicle batteries.

Duke Energy, which has about 780,000 customers in Indiana and distributes power to 69 of the state's 92 counties, said the testing will occur in the Indianapolis area, further boosting the region’s efforts to capitalize on clean-energy technology.

Indiana’s 2-year-old clean-tech initiative, Energy Systems Network, which is part of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, is touting the collaboration as a first between a Japanese company and a major U.S. utility.

“It’s intended to be a commercial pilot that has international market implications,” ESN CEO Paul Mitchell said. “And it’s happening here in Indianapolis in conjunction with the Project Plug-In initiative.”

ESN kicked off Project Plug-In this fall. It includes placing 300 charging stations in the metro area and securing 100 plug-in vehicles for fleets to demonstrate their viability.
Both Duke Energy and Itochu are ESN members.

Potential uses for older lithium-ion batteries include providing a supplemental home-energy supply and a fast-charging power source for electric vehicles, which would be much quicker than plugging into an outlet.

But another use may be the most lucrative. A Piper Jaffray report estimates the global market for batteries used to store electricity on utility power grids could be $600 billion over 10 years.

Grid-storage batteries have uses ranging from stabilizing the power grid to filling in the gaps when wind and solar energy output fluctuates.

The pilot project will help Duke Energy and Itochu explore commercial applications for the used batteries.

Duke Energy will provide engineering design support for battery installations, as well as supply test sites and personnel. Itochu will lend its stationary energy storage expertise.

Lithium-ion batteries start to lose their charge after about three years. Duke and Itochu will test the performance of the batteries using 80 electric vehicles.

Conducting the tests in the Indianapolis area makes sense for the two companies.

The batteries will be produced by locally based EnerDel at facilities in Indianapolis, Noblesville and Mount Comfort. The electric cars are made by EnerDel’s biggest customer, Norwegian automaker Think, which has a plant in Elkhart.

The project is expected to last two to three years.


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