Nothing lasts forever, especially not our planet's resources. That's why we use raw materials sparingly at Deutsche Bahn and keep them in use for as long as possible. Under the DB Bahnbau Group GmbH umbrella, our DB-owned start-up – encore - helps to do just that, giving used batteries from electric vehicles a second life in energy storage systems for renewable energy.
Yesterday's batteries for tomorrow’s green energy
Lithium-ion batteries have become established as a key enabling technology for electric mobility. However, these batteries have a limited life cycle when only used as vehicle traction batteries. Many manufacturers replace them when their performance drops to about 70%. But even when their performance is no longer good enough for use in vehicles, they still have enough energy capacity for other purposes. encore noticed this and is using old batteries to build energy storage systems which can be co-located with renewable energy assets. These second-life battery energy storage systems can store energy from solar, wind or hydroelectric power and, depending on the application, can be kept in use for up to ten more years. They can step in when unplanned power outages occur, or supply power when energy demand is particularly high.
Keeping valuable raw materials in use
Second-life battery energy storage systems make a valuable contribution to resource protection. By reusing old batteries, encore extends their service life so that fewer primary raw materials are needed. This means less mining of non-renewable raw materials such as lithium, nickel and cobalt, which are needed for the production of new battery energy storage systems.
First second-life battery storage made with electric-car batteries being tested
In an initial pilot project, our start-up is buying old batteries from a car manufacturer and refurbishing them. encore takes care of the entire process, from dismantling the battery packs and producing the storage modules to installing, operating and maintaining the battery storage systems. The transportation of materials from around Europe to encore's production sites in Germany is primarily handled by our logistics subsidiary DB Schenker, and also by DB Cargo Logistics. The first such battery storage was commissioned in July 2022 at the EUREF-Campus site in Berlin, where it is part of the Micro Smart Grid, a smart power grid linking various energy sources, consumers and energy storage systems. All told, 24 battery modules from six electric vehicles were installed there.
There are already potential uses for Second Life storage systems at DB: they could store photovoltaic electricity from station roofs during the day and make it available again at off-peak times. Or they could step in when unforeseen power outages threaten rail system safety. For example, they could replace conventional diesel-based emergency power generators in digital signaling facilities. The first battery storage system is already in use at the Zorneding railway station in Bavaria, and others will go into operation at the ICE plant in Leipzig and at the hydrogen refuelling station in Tübingen.
In addition to using electric-vehicle batteries from external manufacturers, encore also plans to use batteries from DB's own electric vehicle pool in the future, thus giving them a second life.