The question of what to do with electric vehicle batteries after their vehicular life cycle ends is only going to get louder and more pressing as electric vehicles grow into a larger percentage of the global auto fleet. Audi is experimenting with one possible option: reusing these batteries to continue to move people forward, albeit in a simpler, shorter-range capacity. In cooperation with startup Nunam, it’s trialling three electric rickshaws powered by second-life batteries.
The Audi Environmental Foundation provides funding to Nunam, a non-profit startup with bases in Berlin and Bangalore. Nunam worked with the team at Audi’s Neckarsulm site to build the vibrant e-rickshaws, each powered by used batteries from Audi’s e-tron test fleet.
“The old batteries are still extremely powerful,” says Nunam cofounder Prodip Chatterjee. “For vehicles with lower range and power requirements, as well as lower overall weight, they are extremely promising. In our second-life project, we reuse batteries from electric cars in electric vehicles; you might call it electric mobility ‘lite’. In this way, we’re trying to find out how much power the batteries can still provide in this demanding use case.”
Audi and Nunam plan to launch the pilot project in early 2023. In the multi-benefit experiment, they will lend the e-rickshaws to enterprising women who can use them to transport goods to the market, helping to promote female job independence.
These e-rickshaws may very well be among the flashiest around India, but Audi acknowledges that there are already many electric rickshaws rolling through the streets of the subcontinent. It says that such models are often powered by lead-acid batteries, however, and charged from the heavily coal-reliant public electric grid.
Nunam will work to create a decentralized solar charging system by placing solar panels on the rooftops of local partners. These panels will charge stationary second-life e-tron storage batteries during the day, passing the energy to the rickshaws at night, when they’re not in use. India’s sunny climate will make a very suitable test bed for this system.
Nunam will be carefully collecting data on the project and publishing it on the open-source platform Circular Battery in hopes of encouraging similar third-party projects. It will also be seeking out potential third-life uses for the batteries once they’re no longer suitable for the e-rickshaws. Possibilities include stationary applications like powering LED lighting.
“We want to get everything possible out of each battery before recycling,” says Chatterjee.
To help promote the project, Nunam and Audi are also building a fourth electric rickshaw. A show vehicle, this model will make a premiere at next week’s Greentech Festival in Berlin, where it will be available for test drives.
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