China’s top energy policymaker released new regulations on Tuesday to ban large energy storage plants from using used automotive batteries following several deadly safety incidents at battery and power plants. 

Why it matters: The new rule highlights the challenge of repurposing used electric car batteries.

  • Using old batteries may lead to higher operational costs than using new batteries, Zhao Guangjin, an expert at the state-owned energy provider State Grid, told Caixin (in Chinese). In addition, facilities may have to spend more to standardize used batteries, which could arrive at storage facilties at different stages of use.

Details: The National Energy Administration said in a draft policy document (in Chinese) that it would ban “in principle” any new “large-size” energy storage projects that use repurposed lithium-ion batteries. The draft does not specify the criteria for defining “large-scale” projects. 

  • For existing large energy storage plants, the draft calls for more inspections, including adding regular technical reviews of battery life and performance. 
  • The energy regulator said the ban would last until after the industry “crosses a key threshold” in utilizing batteries under different storage and cycling conditions. The regulator also said it plans to set up a new review system to inspect battery performance.
  • Repurposed batteries can still be used in small energy storage projects, telecommunication base stations, and electric vehicles with a top speed of 70 kilometers per hour (44 miles per hour). 
  • The draft is under public review until July 22. 

Context: As the world’s biggest electric vehicle market, China is hoping to find a workable solution to recycle used batteries. Batteries from the first generation of electric cars released in the Chinese market around 2009 are now nearing the end of their life cycles. However, several recent safety incidents have increased scrutiny of the battery recycling industry. 

  • An explosion occurred at a recycling affiliate of China’s biggest battery supplier CATL in January, killing one person and injuring six others, Bloomberg reported.
  • In April, an explosion occurred at an energy storage power station in Beijing, killing two firefighters and injuring another, according to China Daily
  • Chinese companies are still in the process of refining battery storage technology and technical standards are still evolving, Kaiyuan Securities analyst Liu Qiang wrote in an April report.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen