SFU alumni reduce electric vehicle battery waste and provide renewable energy to remote Canadian communities

By repurposing Nissan Leaf batteries, cleantech startup Moment Energy facilitates the transition to renewable energy sources

Photo courtesy of SFU News. Pictured left to right, SFU alumni Gabriel Soares, Edward Chiang, Sumreen Rattan, and Gurmesh Sidhu.

By: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate & Harvin Bhathal, Features Editor

Over the past several years, the popularity of electric vehicles has steadily increased. This is due to the low cost required to run and maintain them, as well as the low environmental impact compared to gas-powered vehicles which rely on extracting and processing fossil fuels. As the demand for electric cars rises (sales of electric vehicles surpassed 2.1 million in 2019), their market is projected to dramatically increase. Though the pandemic may affect this projection in the immediate future, it’s clear the shift away from vehicles that run on fossil fuels has begun. However, as electric vehicle production increases, so does the concern over safe electric vehicle battery disposal.

Following the creation of an electric vehicle race team, Team Phantom, SFU alumni Edward Chiang, Sumreen Rattan, Gurmesh Sidhu, and Gabriel Soares founded Moment Energy (Moment) in 2019. They graduated from SFU’s Mechatronic Systems Engineering program and also participated in the Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection entrepreneurship program.  

Moment is dedicated to repurposing electric car batteries for energy storage to counteract the limits of intermittent renewable energy and facilitate the transition to renewable energy sources. Their initiative “prevents the mining of new lithium or the production of new lithium-ion batteries [ . . . ] [and] extend[s] the value and lifetime of the original battery.”

During an interview with The Peak, Sumreen Rattan attributed the Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection program and co-op (SFU Surrey’s interdisciplinary entrepreneurship program) as a source of confidence when starting the cleantech company. Moment participated in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, the Next 36 program, and won several awards including Royal Bank of Canada People’s Choice, the Scotiabank Outstanding Contribution to Society Award, the Clean Energy Prize, and the Connie Bourassa-Shaw Spark Prize. In November 2020, they won second place at the Zero Waste Innovation Hackathon.

At the University of Washington’s Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, university students formed teams to pitch their business plans and prototypes as environmental solutions to 250+ judges. Moment pitched their initiative of reconfiguring electric vehicle batteries for energy storage.

“We pitched the concept of having a circular economy or end-of-life batteries that come out of electric cars, and we really focus[ed] on the sustainability aspect of making sure these batteries aren’t prematurely recycled or sent to landfills. The really cool thing about a circular economy [is that it] takes [the battery] from being used in an electric car to being used in a second-life application with Moment, and then finally being sent to a recycler at the end of its life cycle.”

While recycling and repurposing batteries are both crucial in the circular economy chain, Rattan explained that reusing batteries prior to recycling them maximizes their full potential and reduces toxic waste. After Moment “reconfigure[s] the voltage level [and] add[s] in digital safety components, a battery management system, an enclosure, and additional things,” their repurposed batteries maintain 60–80% of their original capacity and reduce diesel dependency.

Explaining this further, Rattan said, “Let’s say that the Nissan Leaf battery was 24kWH [ . . . ] unless it comes out of the car, it’s usually between 16–18kWH, and then you can repurpose it.”

According to Rattan, “When these electric car batteries come out [of] the car, a lot of them still have 80% of their original capacity left, so that means that you can still use these batteries for 8–10 years or even more than that in a second-life application.”

“After [the batteries are] done in the repurposed second life, then we feel that it’s the best time for these batteries to be recycled [and] extract whatever materials are left [ . . . ] to build more batteries.”

When asked about the repurposed electric car batteries’ life expectancy, she explained that further tests are needed to determine the batteries’ longevity. She acknowledged that determining their longevity occurs on a case-by-case basis. 

“The number of years they survive in a second life completely depends on how the batteries are used [and] in what sort of application it is [in]. Based [on] some rough estimates, we can say that they would last between 7–10 years, and if it’s a low [performance] application, it can last longer.”

In August 2020, Moment collaborated with a University of Manitoba professor to start their pilot project at the Canadian Hydrokinetic Turbine Test Centre (CHTTC), a microgrid facility located in Seven Sister Falls, Manitoba that tests renewable energy set ups. 

“We basically sold them a pilot unit, which is being used to store solar and hydrokinetic power. They’re using our batteries to test the viability of hydrokinetic power.”

The project utilizes Moment’s 6.3kWH energy storage system. Rattan expressed her gratitude for the pilot because the data details their batteries’ performance. 

“On our end, we’re able to see how our batteries are performing, how they’re responding to being charged and discharged, so it’s really useful for us.”

Beyond the CHTTC, she mentioned that she is excited for this collaboration to lead to future initiatives with the UManitoba professor.

Moment also attributes their pilot project’s success to their supply-chain relationship with Nissan North America, who supplies them with used Nissan Leaf batteries to reconfigure and takes care of the spare car parts excluded from the reconfiguration process. Nissan’s support has helped Moment establish a good rapport with their clients. 

When reflecting on Moment’s relationship with Nissan, Rattan explained, “We’re excited that we’re the only Canadian company working with Nissan, which is a huge accomplishment for us.”

In preparation for transitioning remote communities from diesel generators to renewable energy, Moment analyzed case studies on remote Canadian communities and reconfigured the Nissan Leaf batteries for use in outdoor cabins and resorts. They are working in consultation with remote and Indigenous communities throughout British Columbia in order to “understand their needs, where their power infrastructure is lacking, and help bring in an environmentally friendly solution.”

“Two of our primary goals as a company are to help increase the transition to renewable energy and also reduce the world’s diesel dependency.”

In contrast to diesel generators, which are loud and pose a health concern for others, Moment Energy’s repurposed Nissan Leaf batteries are a cheaper alternative to lithium-ion battery storage and release no emissions

“We want to be a company that’s known for repurposing second-life batteries, a company that cares about the environment, cares about creating a circular economy for electric vehicle batteries, and one that’s here to help the transition to renewable power.”