Efficiency drive: How Nissan plans to reuse EV batteries to power data centres

By John Leonard
17 Mar 2014 View Comments

Despite disappointing sales over the past few years (currently the number of electric vehicles (EV) in Europe stands at less than one per cent, or about 65,000 vehicles), Nissan's CEO Carlos Ghosn has high hopes for the EV market.

"Our CEO believes that one in 10 cars will be EV by 2020," Redmer van der Meer, director for corporate planning and electric vehicle programme, told Computing.

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"Whether he is right or wrong about that number there will certainly be a lot of electric vehicles on the roads."

Just last week, van der Meer pointed out, four new EV models were exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show by BMW, VW and Kia, the latter using lithium-polymer batteries for the first time in a production car.

"They are all coming three years after we were there," he said. "The Leaf [Nissan's electric hatchback] is now in second generation and it is all produced in Sunderland. Scale of production and new technology has allowed us to lower the price."

Nissan has long put itself in the forefront of electric car R&D, he stated, including in battery development.

"If we see something we must try to develop it," van der Meer said, explaining that a joint venture with NEC has put Nissan in a pioneering position in the development of automotive lithium-ion batteries.

"The reason for the joint venture is so we are sure we are on the cutting edge of battery technology, it gives us access to new technology as quick as we can."

Nissan is also in alliance with Renault in the production of EVs. France is the biggest consumer of EVs in Europe.

"The Nissan-Renault alliance believes that zero emissions is the future. That is our vision," van der Meer said. "Also we have a holistic approach to the EV."

As part of this holistic approach the company has been looking to find practical uses for batteries that have reached the end of their useful automotive life but which retain sufficient capacity for other functions. After all, if the CEO is correct there will be a lot of end-of-life batteries to recycle over the next few years.

To this end Nissan, together with power management company Eaton and a consortium of academics, enterprises and engineers, has formed the GreenDataNet project, which seeks to improve the efficiency of data centres and to make renewable energy a bigger part of the power supply mix.

The company has already deployed battery packs in its own premises in Japan, providing up to 1,000 KWh of reserve power per pack. Now it wants to take the concept further, using second-use batteries to store excess energy created by wind and solar power plants for use when sun and wind are absent, making it easier to manage the overall energy mix and thus to increase the viability of renewables in powering data centres.

Van der Meer insists that the GreenDataNet project is more than a mere experiment and that the firm will reap business benefits from it.

"I think you see if you've got big companies like Eaton and Nissan there, then there is a business case; otherwise you would just have academics," he said, but he denied that Nissan or the other players would try to patent products resulting from the project, the majority of which will be open source.

"It's about the future. Where should we go in the future for energy management. We are part of the programme in order to prove that batteries that are no longer suitable for vehicles can still have multiple uses."

For its part, Eaton wishes to become a solution provider for all data centre componentry, as co-ordinator Fabrice Roudet, innovation and competencies manager for power quality division at Eaton, explained.

"We are focused on the data centre. With the acquisition of Cooper [a manufacturer of electrical components] a year ago we are now in a position to offer almost everything: UPS, PDUs, racks, bus-ways, cabling, switchgear, everything. We want to be considered a solution provider, and we aim to improve the whole integrated solution through projects like GreenDataNet," he said.

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