As the issue of climate change becomes increasingly more serious, we are seeing a rapid switch over to electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs) in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Lithium-ion batteries, *1 the power source for electric vehicles, degrade with use over time. However, it is difficult to determine in detail how much a battery has degraded. To address this issue, Hitachi High-Tech has developed the Rapid Diagnostics of Battery Degradation Method, which can diagnose battery degradation immediately. By visualizing a battery's remaining performance, we can eliminate any sense of unease around EVs and help to make them more widely used, as well as expanding the use of used batteries, thereby contributing to the creation of a circular economy. *2
*1: Lithium-ion batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are used in a wide range of applications because of their high voltage and energy density, and their ability to store large amounts of electricity.
Lithium-ion batteries that are no longer capable of performing as EV batteries are being reused and remarketed as power supplies for forklifts and golf carts, and as storage batteries for retail outlets and homes. For this reason, it is important to properly measure and identify the remaining capability of lithium-ion batteries in order to reuse and remarket them appropriately.
*2: Circular Economy
An economic concept that aims to achieve a balance between economic growth and reduction of environmental impact by creating value through recycling while also reducing the consumption of natural resources and energy, and reducing waste.
The new challenge facing lithium-ion-battery-related value chains is avoiding the immediate disposal of used lithium-ion batteries, and instead promoting their reuse and remarketing and finding out how to extend their life.
Encouraging the Widespread Use of EVs Through Rapid Diagnostics of Battery Degradation
"We believe that the Rapid Diagnostics of Battery Degradation Method can contribute to the wider use of EVs and the creation of a circular economy around batteries. We would be delighted to be able to contribute to addressing environmental issues through this service being widely used. We want to continue to develop our business so that it can contribute toward addressing ever-worsening issues such as climate change and air pollution, as well as the human suffering that comes with them,"
says Yutaka Ueda of the Business Development Dept., Industrial Solution Business Group at Hitachi High-Tech, who developed the Rapid Diagnostics of Battery Degradation Method, explaining our ambition to solve issues through our business.
Around the world, worsening climate change is damaging the natural environment and ruining people's lives. To mitigate this damage, the international community has committed to decarbonization in an attempt to keep the global average temperature to within 1.5°C above pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
Regulations on gas-powered vehicles in Europe, China, and other parts of the world are growing tighter, and Japan has set its sights on battery-powered vehicles such as electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs).
As we make the switch to EVs and PHVs in the future, there are some concerns around using batteries without knowing their remaining performance; and building a circular economy in which batteries can be put to good use according to their performance, and be used several times over until exhausted, is also a major issue.
With these issues in mind, Hitachi High-Tech developed a method to rapidly diagnose battery degradation in November 2020 that can instantaneously evaluate the performance degradation and remaining life of lithium-ion batteries. We are now preparing to offer the Life Cycle Management Solution for Lithium-ion Batteries as a service.
Contributing to the Environment Through our Technologies of "Observation, Measurement and Analysis"
"Hitachi High-Tech's strengths lie in our technologies of 'Observation, Measurement and Analysis.' What can we do with these technologies? How can we contribute to addressing environmental issues? How can we solve the challenge of making EVs more widely used? It was through extensive discussion of these issues that the idea for this service was born,"
says Hiroya Fujimoto of the Business Development Dept., Industrial Solution Business Group at Hitachi High-Tech, as he explains the background of the development.
To use EVs, it is important to be able to determine exactly what the residual value of a lithium-ion battery is—in other words, to know exactly how long a battery can be used for—but figuring this out takes time. If it takes 4 hours per vehicle, only two vehicles can be tested in a day.
"We spoke with one business operator who deals with EVs, and they were worried that their EVs would suddenly stop running due to battery degradation, so they owned more EVs than they actually operated, which led to a vicious cycle that was even more difficult to manage. This had the opposite effect of the original purpose of introducing EVs, which was to reduce running costs and environmental impact. "We wanted to solve problems like this one, so we moved forward with developing the service," recalls Fujimoto.
Hitachi High-Tech's Life Cycle Management Solution for Lithium-Ion Batteries can significantly reduce the conventional diagnosis time of 2–4 hours to up to 2 minutes, and sometimes as little as a few seconds. This service package involves capturing battery charge and discharge data using their charge-discharge equipment and sending it to the cloud, where it is analyzed and returned, with minimal effort required by the user.
"Our expert knowledge of analytical patterns during discharge has made analysis in such short periods of time possible. It is now possible to carry out a total inspection where previously only spot-checks were possible, due to time and cost constraints. We hope that this will contribute to making EVs more accessible by addressing the concerns of EV users regarding the condition of batteries, and reducing the amount of effort required on their part.
Visualizing Remaining Performance in Order to Create a Circular Economy
Hitachi High-Tech's Life Cycle Management Solution for Lithium-ion Batteries will not only encourage the widespread use of EVs, but will also lead to more efficient use of resources by making it possible to ascertain the condition of batteries.
EV batteries offer high performance. For example, even when they can no longer be used in EVs, modules can be removed and combined for a wide range of applications, such as being used as power supplies for forklifts and golf carts, or as backup power supplies for stores and retail outlets. This means that batteries, which are manufactured from precious mined mineral resources, can be used right up to the end of their life.
"At Hitachi High-Tech, we want to increase the number of recycling options, as this is the only way to truly make full use of batteries, both for the sake of vehicles, and for the future of batteries themselves. As we start to branch out, we believe that we can contribute to the recycling of EVs by providing this simple and highly accurate solution," says Fujimoto.
Until now, there have been very few distribution channels available for recycling or reusing EV batteries, and so people have had no choice but to simply dispose of them as a result of not knowing how much remaining performance they had left. Going forward, being able to visualize remaining performance will make it possible to establish a market for used batteries, in which people can buy and sell with peace of mind.
After we announced this, we received interest from across a variety of industries, including from electricity service providers, recycling companies, rechargeable battery companies, storage battery-related manufacturers, leasing companies, insurance companies, and general trading companies. We have begun discussions around new businesses, and we are also looking into using battery information as a hub to bridge the gap between different businesses.
"The circular economy will only become possible once businesses involved in each process are connected. This is our first platform-based business and we hope through this we can contribute to society in a new way," enthuses Fujimoto.