June 12, 2024
Asheville, North Carolina
batteries
Battery

Recycled Batteries for EV Conversion: The Top Four Candidates

The move towards sustainable, carbon-neutral transportation has accelerated in recent years, leading to a surge in electric vehicle (EV) use. This shift in consumer behavior, while exciting, presents a unique challenge: what to do with used EV batteries?


Simultaneously, there’s a growing trend amongst car enthusiasts to convert traditional vehicles into EVs. The lynchpin of these conversions is the battery system, which dictates the vehicle’s range, performance, and charging capabilities.

Used EV batteries, often salvaged from crashed or decommissioned cars, have emerged as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution for DIY EV converters. However, not all batteries are created equal. Their capacity, performance, size, and cost vary greatly.


In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the characteristics of four widely recognized EV batteries – Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, and BMW i3. We’ll explore their technical specifications, the advantages and disadvantages of using each, and how to determine which is the best fit for your conversion project.

Tesla Model S Battery Pack: The Powerhouse of Performance

The Tesla Model S is a vanguard of electric vehicles, a product of innovative design and groundbreaking technology. With its impressive performance, it has set a new benchmark for what electric cars can achieve. At the heart of this impressive machine lies the battery pack

The Tesla Model S battery pack boasts an energy storage capacity of 85 kWh, derived from lithium-ion cells designed and manufactured in collaboration with Panasonic. The pack operates at a high voltage of 375V and weighs around 1200 lbs.

This remarkable energy density enables the Model S to deliver exceptional range, often surpassing 265 miles on a single charge. Besides, its high power output makes it suitable for heavier vehicles or projects where performance is a priority. However, such capability comes with challenges – sourcing a used Model S battery pack isn’t easy due to high demand, and integrating it into your project can be a complex task due to Tesla’s proprietary technology.

Technical Data:

  • Energy Storage: 85 kWh
  • Cell Type: Lithium-ion (Panasonic 18650 cells)
  • Voltage: 375 V
  • Weight: 1200 lbs

Pros

Superior Energy Density: The Tesla Model S battery pack boasts impressive energy density, which translates into longer driving range.
High Performance: These battery packs deliver consistent, high power output, making them suitable for larger or more performance-oriented vehicles.
Cons:

Cons

Availability: Finding a used Model S battery pack can be difficult due to demand and scarcity.
Integration Difficulty: The complexity of Tesla’s systems often requires specialized knowledge to integrate and manage.

Nissan Leaf Battery Pack: The Accessible Choice

The Nissan Leaf is often hailed as the electric car for the masses. Its popularity and accessibility have resulted in a significant number of used Leaf battery packs entering the market, providing DIY enthusiasts with an affordable option for their EV conversion projects.

The Nissan Leaf battery pack contains lithium-ion cells with an energy storage capacity of 24 kWh. The pack operates at a voltage of 360V and is significantly lighter than the Tesla Model S pack, weighing in at 660 lbs.

While it doesn’t match the Tesla pack’s energy density or range, it is a reliable and robust choice for conversions. Its relatively simple design and technology make it easier to integrate into different types of vehicles. However, keep in mind that the lower energy density means a shorter driving range, and the packs available in the used market may have considerable wear due to their age.

Technical Data:

  • Energy Storage: 24 kWh
  • Cell Type: Lithium-ion
  • Voltage: 360 V
  • Weight: 660 lbs

Pros

Availability: With many Nissan Leafs on the road, finding a used battery pack is relatively easy.
Ease of Integration: These batteries are often simpler to incorporate into a conversion project, making them popular with DIY enthusiasts.

Cons

Lower Energy Density: Compared to other options, the Leaf’s battery pack has a lower energy density, resulting in a shorter range.
Aging: Many of the available used packs are from earlier model Leafs and may have significant wear.

Chevrolet Volt Battery Pack: Compact and Cost-Effective


The Chevrolet Volt is unique. Unlike pure electric cars, it’s a plug-in hybrid, offering drivers the flexibility of an electric powertrain with the backup of a conventional gasoline engine. While it may not be a pure EV, its battery pack holds great potential for EV conversions.

The Volt battery pack utilizes lithium-ion cells manufactured by LG Chem, providing an energy storage capacity of 16.5 kWh. It operates at a voltage of 360V and weighs approximately 435 lbs. This compact pack offers a practical solution for smaller vehicles or projects where budget and space are primary considerations.

However, with the smaller size comes a smaller capacity. The range achievable with the Volt battery pack will be less than that of the Tesla or BMW options. Furthermore, since these packs were originally designed for a hybrid vehicle, they might not offer the optimal performance when used in a pure electric vehicle.

Technical Data:

  • Energy Storage: 16.5 kWh
  • Cell Type: Lithium-ion (LG Chem cells)
  • Voltage: 360 V
  • Weight: 435 lbs

Pros

Compactness: Volt battery packs are small and lightweight, making them ideal for smaller vehicles.
Affordability: Used Volt batteries are often priced reasonably due to their smaller capacity.

Cons

Lower Capacity: These battery packs have a lower total energy storage capacity, which can limit range.
Hybrid Design: Originally designed for a plug-in hybrid system, using them in a pure EV might not offer optimal performance.

BMW i3 Battery Pack: The Premium Alternative


BMW’s reputation for delivering premium vehicles extends to its all-electric offering, the BMW i3. Known for its distinctive design and high-quality construction, the i3’s battery pack offers an interesting proposition for EV conversion projects.

The BMW i3 battery pack provides a substantial energy storage capacity of 42.2 kWh, thanks to its lithium-ion cells. The pack operates at a voltage of 353V and weighs about 550 lbs.

This pack offers a well-rounded option, with a good balance of weight and energy density, resulting in a decent driving range. The BMW i3 pack’s robust construction and reliable performance make it an attractive option for those seeking a premium solution for their conversion projects. However, being a high-end product, sourcing a used i3 pack may be more challenging, and it may come with a higher price tag than other options on this list.

Technical Data:

  • Energy Storage: 42.2 kWh
  • Cell Type: Lithium-ion
  • Voltage: 353 V
  • Weight: 550 lbs

Pros

High-Quality Construction: The BMW i3 battery is known for its reliable performance and robust build.
Balance of Weight and Energy Density: These packs offer a good energy-to-weight ratio, making them suitable for many types of conversions.

Cons

Availability: As a premium vehicle, there are fewer i3s on the road, which can make finding a used battery pack more challenging.

Conclusion

All four options have their strengths and weaknesses. The best choice will depend on the specific needs of your EV conversion project.

For those looking for high performance and long range, and are not deterred by integration complexity or cost, the Tesla Model S battery pack is an excellent option. For DIY enthusiasts looking for easy integration and widespread availability, the Nissan Leaf battery pack is a popular choice, provided that its lower energy density suits your project’s requirements.

The Chevrolet Volt’s battery pack offers a compact and affordable choice for smaller conversions, while the BMW i3’s pack is a high-quality, well-balanced option for those who can handle the higher cost and manage the challenge of sourcing.

Always remember, the success of your EV conversion project greatly depends on your specific requirements, budget, skill level, and the availability of used battery packs in your location.

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