The 3,400 square metre business unit on an industrial estate in Ede has clearly been created with growth in mind. The two halls, which so far only have four employees and a few machines, are ready for major developments. It is the first European location of the American car battery specialist SNT, a leading player in the new “battery remanufacturing” market. Gert-Jan van der Have, European Managing Director: “This will become our European centre for repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing car battery packs.”
Tekst Arjen van der Sar
Fotografie Maarten Noordijk
SNT stands for Spiers New Technologies, and the company was founded by Dutchman Dirk Spiers. The company has grown in the USA over the course of six years into a leading full-service provider namely for 4R services, such as repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing for battery packs used in hybrid and electric vehicles. The company has 90 employees at its headquarters in the state of Oklahoma working for major manufacturers such as Nissan, General Motors and Ford. “SNT’s 4R services enables these manufacturers to optimise the life-cycle management of their batteries and maximise their value”, said Gert-Jan van der Have, European Managing Director.
Life-cycle management is a concept that has actually not yet gained much traction in Europe, as batteries that are below par here are replaced.
Life-cycle management is a concept that has actually not yet gained much traction in Europe, as batteries that are below par here are replaced. Car dismantling firms provide professional recycling or onward supply to second-life applications such as energy storage for homes fitted with solar panels.
Giving greater substance to life-cycle management
SNT has successfully given much more substance to battery life cycle management in the USA. An important part of their activities focuses on extending the life span of batteries through remanufacturing. If that is not possible, then they consider second life applications. Van der Have explained this in more detail: “First, it involves analysing and examining the safety of battery modules that have been removed from their original vehicles. We carry out repairs and refurbish batteries for redeployment in vehicles. One important activity is the ‘repurposing’ of batteries and modules for second life applications, like for uses other than cars.” Finally, SNT provides logistics management for used vehicle battery packs and modules that will be supplied to importers and dealers with an eye on future uses.
This needs some explanation. The level of capacity loss in modules varies considerably from one battery pack to another. Often, a battery pack will still contain many good modules. That is why fully recycling a battery pack is frequently a huge waste. “We are a kind of battery hospital. We are able to see which components in a battery have reached the end of their life, technically speaking. We are able to perform diagnostics rapidly within 4 hours on defective car batteries. Employees at SNT use equipment and software that has been developed in conjunction with car manufacturers. “In the past, the entire sorting and testing process took a full day or even longer, but automation and robotization has considerably accelerated this procedure”, said Gert-Jan van der Have. “We are able to find out exactly which of the many battery modules and cells are causing problems and which ones should be replaced by cells from our huge inventory. For instance, if necessary we can send the client a replacement battery pack – a remanufactured battery pack for older cars and a new battery pack for new cars – the same day,” said Van der Have. He also stressed that the new European location in Ede is currently in a pilot phase. As soon as demand in the market increases, the Ede centre will scale up its activities.
Thousands of modules and cells
A crucial element of the company’s operations is its inventory of used modules. “Technically speaking, a battery performs best when all its modules have exactly the same capacity. Out of the thousands of modules and cells that we collect (complete with extremely detailed test results), record and store from batteries, we choose a number of these which have capacities that ‘match’ exactly. For instance, a remanufactured or refurbished battery can still perform at a high level for years and can be purchased at a price that is between a third and a half of that is a new battery. This is attractive for manufactures and car owners. Manufacturers would prefer to use new batteries for new products. From a cost perspective, good quality remanufactured battery packs offer a solution for the aftermarket. Each new battery pack used for the aftermarket means one less newly manufactured electric car. That is also why the remanufactured battery is the future! If the market for used electric and hybrid cars continues to grow, this battery will soon become a significant factor.”
A remanufactured or refurbished battery can still perform for further years and purchased at a price that is between a third and a half of that of a new battery
Taxi company in Southern Europe
Recent telephone enquires to SNT in Ede give an initial indication of how the market may develop further. “A taxi company in Southern Europe had acquired a series of used Nissan Leafs. Two of these cars no longer worked because of problems with the batteries. They wanted to know whether we could supply remanufactured batteries. We told them it was possible, though exclusively through Nissan.” The tight link with manufacturers and importers is due to things such as the control software in car batteries, which is rather complex and requires specific knowledge for correct installation.
Extending the lifespan
Van der Have believes that SNT is making a significant contribution to the sustainability of batteries and electric vehicles. “Instead of throwing a battery into the incinerator after it is dismantled, we extend its lifespan and actually postpone its recycling. By carrying out a precise diagnosis on which modules and cells perform less well or are faulty, we are able to offer an alternative to replacement with a completely new battery, namely a remanufactured battery, which is also still attractively priced.”
“Instead of throwing a battery into the furnace after dismantling, we extend the lifespan and actually postpone its recycling”
This provides a glimpse of practices in the future. A car dealer that detects a problem with the battery in the car of a client will soon have quick solution through its importer at SNT. They will be provided immediately with a new battery or a replacement remanufactured battery. Furthermore, nothing is wasted in modules and cells that still work.The good ones are recorded and stored in the warehouse for later use.
Creating business relationships
This practice is still not running at full speed. Volumes in the Netherlands and other European countries continue to be low. “However, we are building up our relationships with importers and manufacturers so that we will soon be ready for processing large numbers of batteries. We see the relative tranquillity in the hall in Ede as the calm before the storm.” So what’s next? There is an entire world open for this service. You only need to think of China, where the development of electric vehicles is moving at a lightning pace. Van der Have nods and acknowledges that opportunities do exist and that discussions are underway to set up the SNT service in Asia. “Asia will also have a need for remanufactured batteries in the near future.”
Time for the fifth R: recycling
SNT has grown in size in the USA with 4R services, namely Repair, Remanufacturing, Refurbishing en Repurposing. Soon they will be adding a fifth R: Recycling. SNT is preparing to open a car dismantling firm. This is an EV treatment centre, specifically for electric cars. “It’s a specialised company where we will only safely dismantle electric cars. The batteries are sent to SNT, and the components will be recycled.”
The SNT process in EDE: from test and diagnosis to a new future
Pre-testing. Modules are examined when they are received. Data on features and performance is recorded.Discharging.The voltage in a battery pack is reduced to less than 30% so that it can be worked on safely.Dismantling. The battery is fully taken apart. Some components (for example relays, sensors) are given to manufactures for recycling.Grading. Each module is tested individually. There are three possible outcomes for modules and cells:Top quality, 90-100 percent: these modules can be put back in a battery used in a car.Average quality: these modules and cells can be used in a second-life application (such as energy storage systems)Poor quality: these are recycled.Assembly. Remanufactured battery packs are put together according to manufacturers’ standards.Final testing. End-of-line test procedure in which the entire battery pack is tested and a report is created.