The Gentle Lullaby of Sustainability
By Edwin Kuo
Issue 8 Summer 2011
My 8-week-old son was crying the other day and I went through all the normal checks for what he could be crying about. Dirty diaper? No. Hungry? No. Impact of the multitude of used automobile Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries on the environment? Bingo!
In the very near future, every major car manufacture on the planet will offer an electric or hybrid automobile. GM expects to build 10,000 Chevy Volts this year and Toyota has sold over a million Prius hybrid electric cars in the US alone since it’s introduction in 2000. The lifespan of EV batteries can vary, but the average is about 10-12 years. If you begin to add up the number of new electric and hybrid automobiles that will be on the road in the next 10 years, you’re looking at a huge pile of EV batteries. Certainly the proliferation and consumer adaptation of hybrid and EV automobiles will have an impact on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are released onto the planet. However, the carbon footprint that is created by the manufacturing of these batteries is extremely high and issues compound themselves once these batteries are used up.
Ford has developed a triple bottom line by design solution for this issue. Ford recently partnered with DTE Energy to create Michigan’s largest solar power generation system.
This pilot project will help power the Michigan Assembly Plant that will produce the new Focus and Focus Electric as well as their next-generation hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. What makes this system innovative is that it will reuse vehicle electric batteries for energy storage at the plant.
Hybrid and plug in automobiles are designed to only use a portion of the energy that is stored within the battery. In order to keep the batteries operating efficiently, the batteries in these cars are kept within a precise range of full to drained state to guarantee the correct functioning of the car. Once these batteries no longer have the ability to charge to the levels appropriate for driving, they still have a very high charging capacity. This can potentially be as high as 75% of the battery ability.
There are other companies researching the reuse possibilities of the EV batteries, but the Ford plant will be the first to implement it. Ford will expand this system to other plants if this pilot program is successful.
This isn’t the only recyclable and renewable strategy that being implemented in Ford vehicles. Ford is using bio-based foams in many of their seat cushions. They are also using post-consumer plastics to make plastic components for the cars, recycled yarns for seat fabrics and repurposed nylon carpeting that is molded into cylinder head covers.
Knowing that Ford is out there implementing this triple-bottom line by design action will help my son sleep better through the night. We can only hope that he begins to sleep through the nights.