Second Life: This is how used Audi batteries get a second life

Almost everyone knows the rattling tuk-tuks, the three-wheeler rickshaws in many Indian cities. Millions of mini vans, mostly only protected from the monsoon and the sun by a light hood, dominate the street scene there. Most still drive two-stroke engines and thus contribute a good deal to air pollution.

In a model test by Audi together with the German-Indian startup Nunam, used batteries from electric cars are now to be installed in tuk-tuks in order to get a second life there as energy storage. The pilot project will start in early 2023.

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This corresponds to the declared intention of the Indian government: the traffic in the huge country should gradually become electric in the coming decades. The German-Indian start-up Nunam wants to make a small contribution to this in the billionaire state by initially bringing three electric rickshaws to India’s streets.

In the model test, the used batteries come from test vehicles in the Audi e-tron test fleet. The project aims to explore the extent to which modules made from high-voltage batteries can be usefully reused after they have been used in electric cars.

The first donor batteries for the e-rickshaws come from Audi e-tron models that are part of the manufacturer’s test fleet.

So far, most manufacturers have given a guarantee on every battery that still has up to 70 percent of its original charge capacity 160,000 km or eight years after purchase. In other words, even after that, the battery still stores a lot of electricity, albeit not as much as at the beginning.

“The old batteries are still extremely powerful,” agrees Nunam co-founder Prodip Chatterjee. “When used in the right applications, Second Life batteries can have a huge impact, helping people in challenging life situations to generate income and economic independence – in a sustainable way.”

Cooperation between Neckarsulm and Bangalore

The training team from the Neckarsulm site works on the Audi side, and the startup Nunam on the Indian side. The prototypes are already driving. Once the e-rickshaws with an Audi heart are fully operational, a non-profit organization will receive them. She will lend the e-tricycles to Indian women, who will use them to transport their products to local markets and thus become independent of middlemen. This initiative aims to improve their employment opportunities. The non-profit start-up is funded by the Audi Environmental Foundation.

Three prototypes are already being tested. In 2023 they are to be made available to a non-profit organization in India.

The eco-efficiency of an e-rickshaw is optimal, explains the Nunam founder. While the battery has a high energy density and the weight of the vehicle is comparatively low, the power of the electric motor does not have to be particularly high, because the distances to be covered in Indian cities are usually just as manageable as the speed achieved. The three-wheelers that have already been powered by electricity are mostly powered by lead-acid batteries, which only have a short lifespan.

The German-Indian start-up Nunam is putting three electric rickshaws on India’s streets. They were redesigned by Audi trainees.

After the second life, the third battery life could come

There is even a sustainable solution for the power supply: while India has a large proportion of electricity generated from coal, the energy for the electric rickshaws will come from solar cells located on the roofs of the local project partner in Bangalore. During the day, the sun charges the battery pack of a former Audi e-tron with energy, and in the evening the electricity is transferred from there to the rickshaws. The next morning they are full and can start the next tours.

The project aims to find out how modules from high-voltage batteries can be reused after they have been used in the car.

After the battery has spent its first life in an Audi e-tron and its second in an e-rickshaw, it has not necessarily arrived at the end of the road. In a further step, it is conceivable to use the remaining energy for stationary applications such as LED lighting. “We want to get everything out of the battery before it goes into recycling,” says co-founder Prodip Chatterjee. Then it would only finally be over after the third life.

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