Nature’s design involves systems which have been around for billions of years. It is designed to self-sustain 100% – there is no waste. The meticulously designed food-chain links every living organism to make a complete circle.
However, as humans, our designs are fundamentally linear, i.e. we take-make-use-dump. And thus, we are eating up the finite resources available to us, often producing toxic waste in the process. This simply cannot work in the long term. We will soon run out of the essential minerals and metals we require to build things. Hence the question is, could we emulate nature and build something truly sustainable? That way, we could reimagine the life cycle of products, and move from a linear take-make-use-dump model to a circular take-make-use-reuse-repair-remanufacture-recycle model. To know more about the circular economy, look up the inspirational work by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
To reach the national target of 30% EV adoption by 2030, India will require approximately 800 GWh of batteries. Unfortunately, most of the precious elements that make these batteries would be lost in the recycling process. So when these batteries reach their end of life, say around 2040, we will have huge piles of hazardous electrochemical waste. Surely, this is not a desirable future. But all is not lost, there’s hope!
If these batteries are designed to mimic nature’s circular model, we could maximize the total value extraction. At Swapp, we believe that such circularity is technically feasible, and such a design philosophy can also add to the business viability. This is why our motto is "accelerating EV adoption through circular design". At Swapp, our design goals are built around the ease of disassembly, reuse, repair, and remanufacture. So with our processes, we not only extend the usable life of batteries, but we also ensure the salvation from the recycling stage is much closer to 100%.
Design for disassembly is the key motif for circularity. With design for disassembly, we achieve multiple goals:
Extend the usable life of cells
Compared to the rest of the subcomponents within a battery pack, cells have the shortest lifespan. Therefore, in a typical linear fixed-battery design, as the cells approach the end of life, the car’s performance drops, leading to the entire battery pack getting discarded. This is done even though many other sub-components of the pack are still usable. On the contrary, with Swapp’s modules, when the state of health of the cells doesn’t meet automotive needs, we disassemble the module and supply the old cells for non-automotive applications.
Our designs achieve this through extensive modularity. For instance, hundreds of components are integrated within each Swapp battery module. However, even if any single part is found to be faulty, it can be replaced easily without affecting any other part in the module.
Delay recycling and maximize salvation
Disassembly helps in segregating the product into its subcomponents. This enables the sorting of the subcomponents to maximize recycling salvation. Additionally, extending the life of cells through secondary application utilizes the cells to their full potential, and also delays the recycling stage. Considering the rate at which cell recycling technology has evolved over the last decade, the very act of delaying the recycling stage would improve the salvation from the recycling stage.
While we aim to build truly circular products, the journey is not easy. There are severe engineering challenges that come with it. For instance, for easy disassembly, the use of glue is generally forbidden. But from the perspective of integration, packaging and encapsulation, glue is an absolute must. So an effective and reliable integration plan which does not involve glue has to be conceptualized and validated for the automotive use case. Just like that of glue, there are numerous other engineering challenges which are novel.
This is why enhancing the extent of disassembly is a never-ending endeavour. Our journey has just begun!