If your computer died, would you throw the old one away, or would you send it to a recycling firm? Hopefully you would do the latter. Most computers are constructed using highly modular designs with discrete components, each of which have distinct useful lives. Recycling firms can repurpose useful components and strip precious metals from nonfunctional or outdated parts.
Charles Gassenheimer, Chairman of Ener1, a leading battery technology firm serving the electric car industry, envisions a similar future for vehicle components. Ener1 is working today towards a future in which consumers purchase electric cars and separately lease their expensive battery packs, reducing up-front costs and diverting waste from landfills.
Electric cars are similar to computers in that their components can outlast the overall device. In the case of Ener1’s lithium-ion car batteries, 80% of their charge capacity is retained after 8-10 years (the typical lifetime of a vehicle). Ener1 battery packs can be removed at the termination of their lease and dissembled into discrete modules. These modules can then be recombined to serve a host of secondary functions. One major application is large-scale energy storage for utilities, in order to distribute solar power at night. Another use is in Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) backup systems for offices, computer systems, schools and hospitals.