UP organizations partner to research electric vehicle batteries

Research is ongoing on how to effectively build the battery of an electric vehicle and nickel is a key material in that process.
Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 7:48 PM EST
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Research is ongoing on how to effectively build the battery of an electric vehicle and nickel is a key material in that process.

Nickel is found here in the up and is managed by Eagle mine. The company’s External Affairs Manager Matt Johnson said Eagle is in a unique position.

“Right here in the Upper Peninsula, we have the only nickel mine in the United States. This has put Eagle Mine in the spotlight and created opportunities for us to understand how do we play a role or what is our role in this new energy economy,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Eagle Mine is currently finding ways to mine more efficiently. That is why the mine has partnered with Michigan Tech University. Johnson said they are looking at how to produce or reuse nickel.

“That includes looking at our waste product. So the tails that we currently put into a storage facility that may have commercial value in the future. We also are partnering with recyclability of spent EV batteries,” Johnson said. “How can we get the metal back out of the battery and Michigan Tech has created new processes in order to do that.”

Michigan Tech is also researching the feasibility of using EVs in a colder climate like that of the U.P. Power Systems Research Center Director Jeffrey Naber said one aspect being studied is the battery’s temperature.

“We want to look at how best to manage the energy within the system, to maintain the battery in its critical temperature or preferred temperature range,” Naber said.

Associate Director of the Power Systems Research Center Jeremy Worm said when it comes to replacing the battery itself, the cost is going up.

“We’ve seen within the last couple of years a slight uptick in EV battery cost, really signifying that I’ll say more traditional market forces are coming into play. These batteries we require in addition to lithium, nickel, cobalt and other materials,” Worm said.

Worm says long-range batteries could cost around $10,000 each. Collisions can also pose a threat to the battery of an electric vehicle. In a crash, an EV’s main hazards are shock and fire-related.

“Even in a collision, their safety is in place, but in a collision scenario you can’t always tell what’s going to happen,” Worm said. “The vehicle could become deformed, wires could become pinched, different things could happen. So there is that hazard when you approach a vehicle.”

Worm said partnering with U.P. Michigan works to help first responders when an electric battery is involved.

“We’ve developed a four-hour program to give first responders the training that they need so that when they approach a collision site and an EV is involved, they have the tools and the knowledge necessary to survey the scene, create a perimeter and disable the high voltage system,” Worm said.

Worm said it is beneficial for consumers to invest in some form of an electric vehicle.

“The benefits of electrification will depend on how people use their vehicles. There are times when full electrification provides environmental benefits. There are times when hybrid electrification is the best environmental benefit,” Worm said.

Worm said manufacturers are continuing to find ways to make electric vehicles safer and more affordable for consumers.