What happens when a battery reaches the end of its lifecycle? Find out on this week's episode of #UtilimarcFleetFYIs.
Gretchen Reese (00:19):
Welcome to the Fleet FYIs podcast, the weekly podcast by Utilimarc that reveals how you can make the most of your data for smarter fleet management. My name is Gretchen, and every week I'll be sharing with you not only over two decades worth of data insights, but some of the industry's hottest talking points and key metric analysis with the aim to help you better understand your fleet from every angle. Before we begin, if this is the first time you've heard our show, thanks for stopping by. Once you've finished today's episode, if you could take a few minutes to leave us a review on your favorite podcasting platform, I would really appreciate it. Give us a rating, five stars, I hope, or tell us what you liked or leave us a comment or a question about what you've heard in today's episode. If we haven't yet covered a topic that you're interested in hearing more about, let us know. We would be happy to go over it in detail in a later episode. Let's dig in.
Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of the Fleet FYIs podcast. I'm super pumped to dive into today's episode, which is the second of a four part series on EV technology today. And a lot of the material for today's show, if you're interested in learning more about it, that is, can actually be found in our free guide to electrification for fleet managers. And this is over on Utilimarc's website, so www.utilimarc, U-T-I-L-I-M-A-R-C.com/electric-vehicle-guide, with dashes in between the words. If you're keen, it's got all sorts of goodies in there, more on chargers, more on EV tech, more on how to report on all of the things. If you're interested in learning more, you can head over to our website and download the ebook for free, jam-packed with a lot of information. We co-wrote it with one of our analysts over on the Utilimarc team and it is absolutely awesome. And I also have some more exciting news to share with you all too.
Utilimarc just wrapped up a massive study on how fleets are using electric vehicles in their fleets today as of 2023. Also, the percentage of electric vehicle fleet makeup, what reporting is necessary to determine EV initiative success, and so much more. So if you are interested in taking a look at the results, you can head over to Utilimarc.com/surveys to learn more. I know I just threw a lot of information at you, so without further ado, let's dig into the show. But I just wanted to let you know before I do, these resources are completely free, so grab them if you want to. I think they're great and they're full of a lot of information that I hope will be helpful to you if you're looking at pursuing electrification or if you're like me and you're just fascinated by the technology itself. Alrighty, let's dig in
Electrification sure is a heavy topic, isn't it? One thing I really love about these shows is I get to delve into more of the technology side of EVs overall, and I think that's one of the cool things about the technology itself is there's so much that you can look at, especially from a high level lens. And one thing I wanted to touch on today is more of the battery degradation and the life cycling of an EV battery. And as organizations look to add long-term electric vehicles to their fleet, concerns around this battery degradation and the life cycling of the batteries have risen to the forefront, which I think is a pretty natural concern, right? So especially when we're talking about batteries that are cycled at high electric output at fast charging stations. This is really hard data to source reliably, as battery technologies are ever-improving and most EVs have not spent long on the road compared to internal combustion engines.
We have a ton of data on those because they've been around forever, basically since the cart and buggy, right? Or horse and buggy I should say. But EVs are a little bit newer in terms of technology aspects overall. In a recent Geotab study, they ran it on 6,000 vehicles. The data gathered seems to indicate that this effect may not be as drastic as we once thought, which is good, right? Because typical degradation is actually around 2% per year of use, in theory. Another thing to note is that this degradation is not primarily correlated to the frequency of use, which I know is a big concern for a lot of folks that have fleets of vehicles that are used a lot of the time or for primary functions. Instead, the main contributor to this degradation seems to be temperature, at least according to the study, right?
Where warmer climates lead to an increased degradation rate. We've actually done a couple of podcast episodes on this in the past. One with Modine and another one with our own director of analytics, Paul Milner, who I'm super excited to have back on the show very, very soon, which touch on thermal management and the importance of it. Now, for those of you that don't know what thermal management is, and just to get into it on a high level perspective, because like I said, we do have a couple of other episodes on the topic already, thermal management is really regulating the temperature of your vehicle or regulating the temperature of your battery packs in order to make sure that it's performing at its highest capabilities and you are not either getting too cold or too warm. It's at the perfect temperature for high performance. That's the gist.
There's one core piece to this puzzle though that I spoke on a little bit last week, but I didn't dive in too far, and that was the relationship between electric vehicles and the currents used to charge their batteries. So like I said last week, if you listened to part one, which I hope you did, DC fast charging or DCFC, if you're looking at charging labels online, DC fast charging remains a concern. Now, DC, and of course relates to the current, so direct, current, fast charging, or if you have a level one or level two charger that is an alternating current, or an AC charger. But my point is that as batteries experience frequent high output energies, the battery's state of health, otherwise called an SOH, very clearly can suffer from it. However, this effect still seems to be pretty minute even when the fast charging is the sole mode of recharging, which is really good news.
And a study done by Idaho National Laboratory looked at the effect of a direct current fast charger versus a level two alternating current charger up to about 50,000 miles. This was done under a variety of driving and laboratory conditions and found additional degradation when compared to AC charged batteries to be a small, only within a few percent after even many cycles of soley relying on DC fast charger than it would otherwise. Which I think is a bit of a relief when we talk about the need for being able to quickly charge up our vehicle. Say for example, if we're on a cross-nation trip, right? So think about it, the US is a big place, if you have to drive across the country with an electric vehicle and you need to charge it fast because you don't want to have a lot of downtime where your vehicle is just sitting at a charging station doing nothing, you want to charge it up fast.
DC fast chargers tend to be a really good option, but of course the worry then kicks in if you're only ever using DC fast chargers to get that charge built up high enough to be able to keep going and doing what you're doing, you're worried about it. However, the Idaho National Laboratory made it seem as though, and actually found that, that doesn't happen or it shouldn't be as big of a concern as we once thought, which is great. There's one other phenomenon that I think a lot of people kind of miss out on when we're looking at electric vehicle state of charge and as well as how much power is actually contained within these EV batteries, and that's called phantom drain. And I wanted to talk a little bit about where this phantom drain phenomenon fits in too. We touched on it also again earlier in a Fleet FYI's episode a few months ago.
But just to reiterate, many electric vehicle operators and owners overall have been experiencing what we like to call phantom drain. Now phantom drain, which is sometimes called vampire drain, if you look it up, I love all these synonymous descriptions here, it's kind of funny, is when you look at the energy lost from a battery whilst the vehicle's not in use. And you might think to yourself, "Well, how in the heck is my battery going to die if I'm not even using it?" Think about your phone, for example. If you have other things going on in the background, say your phone is off, you're not using it, you don't have any apps going, but it still is trying to keep itself at an optimal temperature, your battery still might go down, albeit very, very small amounts, but it'll still go down if you're not using it.
It's the same basic concept here. Phantom drain occurs in an electric vehicle battery because of one of two reasons. First, batteries are not a hundred percent efficient in storing energy. This we should all know by now. And second, this occurs due to energy leached by vehicle onboard electronics to drive processes which occur whilst not in use. Again, think about the phone example here. So you have the first example where nothing's going on in the phone, all of your apps are closed, your screen is locked, and oh, the battery still goes down. Second example, you have probably about 10 apps open on your phone. Even though your screen is locked, you're not actively using it. Your email's in the back, you have maybe Facebook going on, you have your text messages up, you have the weather app constantly updating. Maybe you're looking at something from your Apple Watch, and you're texting people back, and your messages app opens up on your phone.
Either way, these are still running in the background, even if you're not actively using your phone. And similar to an electric vehicle battery, it will take the battery percentage down a little bit by a little bit, the more background actions you have running as it's turned on. Now, typically internal combustion engine vehicles draw nominal amounts of power from this 12 volt lead acid battery to retain certain vehicle features like power locks for example, because we all know that ICE vehicles also still have that battery within their hood compartment to power these onboard accessories. And most electric vehicles even still have this small lead acid battery, which is responsible for such functions. But still because the entire vehicle is battery powered, the main vehicle battery still suffers from phantom drain from other sources that require power during vehicle downtime. A study conducted on a 2013 Tesla model S showed that phantom drain from the onboard electronics can contribute to a range loss of up to five miles when sitting unused for 18 hours.
Now, this doesn't really seem like that much, but still, five miles over 18 hours if you're not actually using the vehicle. That can add up over time, right? And as vehicles get smarter, these third party applications, or API calls, can leach even more power from a battery, which poses a threat to range longevity. If your vehicle's just sitting there in the driveway and the apps are still going on in the background, your range goes do, do, do, do, a little bit lower every single time, you're going to want to know what's going on. The frequency of these communications with the vehicle could lead to significant loss of range, perhaps up to 10 miles per 18 hours unused or even more, which is not great. And this strain can be exacerbated by factors like the current state of charge of the battery or external ambient temperature. Again, back to that thermal management thing that we talked about a little earlier.
For example, a battery charged to 100% capacity in a hot climate would phantom drain the fastest. What does that mean for fleets? Well, phantom drain has serious implications for fleets that don't use their electric vehicles as frequently as someone who would. Maybe passenger vehicles might be the most commonly used electric vehicles for fleets at the moment. There's a bunch of different applications that EVs can have. But my point is if you imagine the direct analog of a fully fueled, that's a bit of a tongue twister. Try saying that five times fast ICE vehicle, which loses up to a gallon of fuel due to the evaporation per day that it sits unused. Such problems are easily realized. They kind of go hand in hand here. ICE vehicles, it's evaporation, EVs, it's phantom drain. To combat this, many drivers are leaving their electric vehicles plugged into charging ports until they're ready to be driven, which can actually pose a bit of a challenge for understanding the data though, and I'll get into that in just a second.
But the point is, is that if you want to delve into your EV data specifically, always having your vehicle plugged in can be difficult for that. Why? Well, it has a tendency to muddle the data at an event level, especially if you're monitoring charge events, right? And many small charging events that consume minimal energy to keep the vehicle, "Topped off," but for business purposes should be aggregated into a single charging event that represents a total amount of energy consumed during the vehicle's time on a plug, the waters can get a little muddy, right? And you're going to need something to be able to standardize that and put that all together and say, "You know what? Even though it's showing me multiple charging events," because say the charger was used to top off that vehicle, if you know there's some phantom drain occurring, you're still trying to measure the amount of total energy consumed during the vehicle's time on a plug. And it might not just be the one charging event if you leave your vehicle plugged in.
It gets a little complicated, but we can dive into that more in a later episode if you would be keen. Please do let me know if you want to hear an episode on that. But the last piece of today's episode that I'd really love to dive into before I sign off for the week is the recycling and the disposal of these batteries. Because we've talked a little bit about how they're made, we've talked a little bit about how they work. We've also talked about the phantom drain and the types of charging that you see with these vehicle batteries. There's that lifecycle element here that we're talking about, right? And now the recycling part. What do you do when the batteries are, for lack of a better word, dead, right?
So when a battery has degraded to the point that it is taken out of commission, there's still an issue of how best to dispose of it. Recycling and the recycling of EV batteries overall, as well as the material within them remains a challenge for the industry and automakers alike. So it's not just us in the fleet industry that are dealing with this, am I right? So battery cells contain harmful toxins including heavy metals, which if left sitting in a landfill could create major ecological damage. No one wants any more of that. So that option is completely out the door. We're not doing that. Furthermore, batteries can be quite hazardous where sufficient degradation or physical trauma to the battery case could cause combustion and release of toxic fumes. We're not doing that. That plan is also out the window. But on the bright side, most EV life cycles still haven't yet ended, which is awesome to note.
Because of this, we have not yet had to contend with battery disposal at a large scale. It's been pretty minute as of yet. And as more and more electric vehicles hit the roads, recycling and disposal remains a massive issue. And that is something that will really need addressing before it arrives at our doorstep. We don't want to end up at the end of these battery's life cycles and have a massive wave of batteries that we now have to deal with. That would not be ideal. But what would be ideal is being able to recycle the batteries, or at least the materials inside, because that would ease the strain of the disposal issue, where we would be able to reuse most of the battery components and consequently decrease the reliance on the supply of certain rare earth elements like nickel or like cobalt that have to be mined to be able to be used.
Now, currently there are three major types of battery recycling processes. The first two are metallurgical techniques that are called pyrometallurgy, and hydrometallurgy, where cathode materials are extracted from the battery by burning into slag or dissolving in acid respectively. Now, these techniques require the complete reconstruction of the cathode prior to the manufacturing of a new battery. And the third, and ideal recycling technique, this is my favorite one, is direct recycling where the cathode is actually kept intact during battery disassembly. This is a largely theoretical process at the moment as the first attempts were subject to massive losses of cathode matter. Not so great. However, current battery recycling techniques do not have an advantageous price, which is a big bummer because freshly mined materials at the moment are cheaper than the cost of recycling techniques, which causes a major point of frustration for operators and consumers hoping for a more sustainable solution of equal or lesser cost to make it more of an attractive option to everyone.
On top of that, current recycling techniques are insufficient for the demand that will be required in the near future. Like I said, the popularity of electric vehicles is only beginning to skyrocket, and whilst it might not be perhaps right for your fleet or maybe not right for you right now, it's right for somebody else in another part of the world or even another region in your own organizational territory. And that's one thing that the International Energy Agency, the IEA estimates that EVs put on the road in 2019 will ultimately generate 500,000 metric tons of waste. And we currently only have the capacity to approximately recycle around 180,000 metric tons. And that was just 2019. We're in 2023 now, so that has actually increased over the last few years. I don't know if that's exactly what you would call an even keel.
Anyways, I know I've thrown a lot of information at you this week. I am no stranger to that, and because I like to keep these episodes a bit more bite-sized, not always, I'll admit, but a bit more bite-sized when I go on the tech-heavy side, that is where I will leave it for you today. Now, if you're still ready for more on EV tech, how it's used, how it's produced, how it's manufactured, et cetera, all the good stuff, make sure you tune in next week on Friday for part three of our four part EV tech series here on the Fleet FYIs podcast. As always, if you have any questions about the technology itself or how to report on electric vehicles in your fleet, please don't hesitate to reach out. I would love to hear from you. Send me an email. Tag us on LinkedIn, use the hashtag UtilimarcFleetFYI, send a carrier pigeon.
You know the drill by now. And one thing I just want to mention before you go back to your busy schedules and enjoy your weekend is I would love, if you are not already, for you to subscribe to the Fleet FYIs podcast on whatever streaming platform that you are listening from, whether it be Apple Podcast, Spotify, Teaser, whatever it is. I'd love to have you subscribe just so that you can come back and hear more from us each and every single week. And if you feel so inclined, you could leave us a review because it helps other folks similar to you find the show and to be able to get as much value from it as hopefully you do. And it also really supports us too, which I love to see you guys doing.
Anyways, that is all for me for this week, so I will speak to you again on Friday. Ciao. Hey, there, it's me again. I think it's time to cue the virtual high five because you've just finished listening to another episode of the Fleet FYIs podcast. If you're already wanting more on all things fleet and vehicle technology, head over to Utilimarc.com, which is Utilimarc with a C, U-T-I-L-I-M-A-R-C.com for this episode show notes and extra insights coming straight from our analyst to you. That's all for me this week, so until next time, I'll catch you later.