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December is a time to recharge but what about the planet?

By Lance Dickerson, co-founder and MD of REVOV

Those of us who are lucky enough to be traveling this December are looking forward to a well-earned break. It may be somewhere along our staggeringly beautiful coast, in our majestic mountain ranges, or to one of our many game and nature reserves. Mother Nature’s breathtaking beauty will, hopefully, recharge our batteries for what promises to be an action-packed 2023.

But what about Mother Nature herself? Does the planet not need time to breathe and recharge? With the rate at which oil, coal, and diesel is being burnt to keep the lights on around the planet, we can be sure of only one thing – there’s no timeout for planet earth, even though there should be. To our credit, we have become efficient in our energy usage, but there’s also another billion of us.

Isn’t it ironic that when we are exhausted or burnt out that we use the idiom: “recharge our batteries”? It is ironic because one sure way we can start to put our money where our mouths are is by investing in better batteries. Why batteries, you may ask? Good question, and here’s the answer.

You will know there has been a massive drive globally to invest in renewable energy precisely because burning fossil fuels is finite but also deadly to our planet. South Africa took a circuitous route to cotton on to this reality – with highly influential politicians still not sold – but now there are many new wind and solar projects in the pipeline on these shores, either as independent power producers or in large industries that have been given leeway to generate their own power.

Fossil fuel advocates point to the fact that renewable energy is dependent on nature. If there is no wind or sun, you won’t generate power. This power dearth when you need power timeously is managed through batteries. Simply put, we refer to installations of batteries that store the power being generated so that there is constant supply. In other words, when the wind blows and the sun shines, the installations generate power that is then stored in battery installations which ensure that at night, or when the wind stops, there is still a supply of power, and so the cycle continues.

It is evident then that unfailing, consistent, renewable energy there must be batteries. This large-scale market is set to explode to levels unimaginable. To give one a taste of the sheer magnitude of this market, a few months ago BlackRock invested $700-million (that’s about R12-billion) into about 1 gigawatt Australian battery storage, and then said they are ready to look into other Asia-Pacific markets for further investment, precisely because large-scale battery storage systems are becoming increasingly important as renewable energy investment and capacity expands.

So, what does any of this have to do with us mere people? To date, the most suitable battery storage for renewable energy, from utility scale down to industrial scale down to office parks and private homes, is lithium iron phosphate, which the world refers to as LiFePO4. All good and well, except that it triggers an ecological conflict of conscience.

As the electric vehicle (EV) and renewable sectors clamour for batteries and push up demand, it’s the planet that pays the price. Efforts to invest in sustainable mobility and renewable energy result in escalating mining demand and massive carbon emissions to meet that demand. Is this yet again, the seeds of another tragedy? Rare earth metals nickel and lithium are mined, transported to docks, shipped across the oceans, beneficiated, then shipped back to whomever has paid for the product at a colossal carbon cost. It would appear that this is an inescapable price that earth must pay, but it’s not.

There is another solution, and it is called 2nd LiFe, where the good cells of replaced EV batteries are repurposed for storage solution. In the life of every EV, there comes a time when the weight of the battery no longer justifies the output, and it is replaced. In these batteries are perfectly good cells that still have many years’ life and thousands of potential charge and discharge cycles. The best part is that these cells were produced for a mobile environment meaning they have a greater tolerance for extreme temperatures and harsher operating cycles than first life LiFePO4 ESS cells.

These cells are repurposed, repackaged and built into fit-for-purpose storage batteries. If this doesn’t happen, they are stowed in dilapidated warehouses as a sustainable recycling process does not yet exist, and so again, there’s another point of friction in the sustainable economy – it is all good and well to e-drive around without creating emissions, but why then poison the planet when you are (only half) done with the cells?

2nd LiFe batteries tick all the boxes, they are as good as and, in many cases, superior, to first-life batteries. There’s a misconceived argument that they are second hand, which is simply not the case as it is like taking a BMW sedan, stripping it, using the parts, and building a boat. They are repurposed batteries using only the perfectly good cells, with a bunch of new computerised parts.

2nd LiFe batteries can be used in all sizes of installations, and they give us, the consumer, the power to decide that enough is enough, and to do our bit to reduce carbon emissions which are scarring our planet. As you sit at the beach or watch a sunset over a mountain, let this be food for thought when you recharge your batteries: what about the planet’s batteries?