A specialist in retrofitting, Carwatt uses second-life batteries from Groupe Renault electric vehicles to transform combustion-powered vehicles into electric ones. This offers an alternative to buying new parts and is the result of a partnership that fully adheres to a circular economy. Éric Planchais, Managing Director of Carwatt, explains.
CARWATT was established in 2014 in response to a question posed by our president, former pilot Gérard Feldzer, to one of the directors of Groupe Renault: “What do you do with your batteries once they are used up?” He had an idea in mind when he asked this question: to reuse second-life batteries for a variety of purposes. CARWATT fits perfectly into the circular economy of mobility in every sense.
Because one of the biggest obstacles in the electric conversion of combustion-powered vehicles is of meeting legal standards for vehicles driven in public spaces, we chose to begin with technical vehicles, namely those used at airports. Airports, which are private property, do not have the same requirements as public roadways. As such, ground support vehicles, which are considered industrial equipment, do not need to be registered.
To convert these types of combustion-powered vehicles into electric ones, we chose to reuse second-life batteries from the automobile industry. They are either reinstalled as is or reconfigured, and may or may not use certain original parts, such as the BMS (Battery Management System).
It wasn’t by chance that we chose to work with batteries from Renault electric vehicles! Well-designed and extremely reliable thanks to the company’s strict manufacturing requirements, they have already demonstrated their robustness in their first automotive lives. The ZOE, Kangoo Z.E. and Fluence Z.E. batteries we buy from Renault are five or six years old, but their capacity has decreased only slightly. Their performance is still more than sufficient for the contexts in which we use them.
We are working with our biggest client, Air France, to convert numerous vehicles. We are beginning to equip a series of baggage carts with second-life batteries, and we are studying the possibility of doing the same with ground vehicles, passenger stairways, tugs, and even passenger shuttles! We are also perfecting a system of electric pumping for kerosene fuel trucks.
The other main area of research we are currently working on is vehicles used for safari photography tours in East Africa. For this, we are collaborating with local partners and a French safari company. With reduced speeds, silence in order to avoid scaring the animals and low maintenance costs, electric vehicles are perfectly suited to this context! The vehicles are charged using the lodges’ solar panels.
We also have a whole range of other projects, such as the electrification of municipal utility vehicles, service pumps on trucks, and electric assistance for horse-drawn carriages in Africa. There’s a whole world of possibilities!
Yes, that’s right. We are working with our partners, Akuo Energy and Faar Industry, to electrify the Flâneuse du Nil, an Egyptian cruise ship. The plan is to install 120 square meters of solar panels and four second-life ZOE batteries, which will be enough to provide the electricity needed for daily life on the ship. In the winter, when there is no need for air conditioning, the boat should be completely self-sufficient thanks to solar power. The project will then continue with the electrification of the boat’s traction system, currently done by a tugboat.
It wasn’t by chance that we chose to work with batteries from Renault electric vehicles! Well-designed and extremely reliable thanks to the company’s strict manufacturing requirements, they have already demonstrated their robustness in their first automotive lives.
2019 was a turning point, as we entered into the production phase for a series of vehicles for Air France. To facilitate the industrialization process, we recently moved to a new site in Coignières (southwest of Paris,) and are currently recruiting engineers and production operators. Our partnership with Renault is growing even stronger. After starting with just a few units in order to perfect our prototypes, we have now used around 40 batteries in 2019. Two years from now, in order to cover the wide range of possible applications, several hundred battery packs will be needed.
Renault has also just given us the use of its battery calculators and is training us to use them. This will allow us to conduct rapid breakdown diagnostic tests by ourselves, and thus save time. Lastly, in the future we intend to use not only Renault battery modules, but also other parts from the drivetrain. This will open up new possibilities for the sustainable renovation of vehicles.
Carfitting makes perfect sense, because it promotes the use of carbon-free vehicles at a reasonable price. And we don’t intend to stop there! One of our objectives is to electrify urban buses, notably hybrid vehicles, which are already designed to support electric batteries.
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