Yellowstone Project Uses Batteries for Solar Power

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. —At the Lamar Buffalo Ranch field campus in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, a distributed energy system that combines solar power generation with re-used car battery packs is now online.

The system creates sustainable, zero-emission power to the ranger station and education center for the first time since it was founded in 1907. Announced in June 2014, a partnership among Toyota, Indianapolis-based Indy Power Systems, Sharp USA SolarWorld of Mahwah, N.J., Patriot Solar of Albion, Mich., the National Park Service and Yellowstone Park Foundation is an effort to extend the useful life of hybrid vehicle batteries while providing sustainable power generation for one of the most remote areas in the United States.

Solar panels generate the renewable electricity stored within the 208 used Camry Hybrid nickel-metal hydride battery packs, recovered from Toyota dealers across the United States. The Yellowstone system is the first of its kind to use recovered hybrid vehicle batteries for commercial energy storage.

“Through our long-standing partnership with Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Toyota has helped preserve Yellowstone for future generations,” said Jim Lentz, chief executive officer, Toyota North America, in a statement. “Today, our relationship with Yellowstone continues, as more than 200 battery packs that once powered Toyota Camry hybrids have found a new home on the range.”

On an annual basis, the solar system generates enough electricity to power six average U.S. households for a year, plenty of power for the five buildings on the Lamar Buffalo Ranch campus. The hybrid batteries provide 85 kilowatt-hours of energy storage to ensure continuous power as the system charges and discharges. Onsite micro-hydro turbine systems capturing energy from a neighboring stream are scheduled to join the power mix in 2016.

Each battery pack has been disassembled and tested, and every piece that could be was repurposed. New components were also designed and built by Indy Power Systems specifically for this application, including an onboard battery management system for each battery pack. The battery management system is designed to maximize battery life and will also provide important insights into real-world performance. These insights will help Toyota design future battery performance and durability improvements.

“Toyota’s innovative response to solve a difficult problem has helped Yellowstone move closer to its goal of becoming the greenest park in the world,” said Steve Iobst, acting superintendent of Yellowstone, in a statement.

Hybrid batteries typically reach the end of their usable life in automobile-grade applications with significant remaining power storage capacity. Toyota has a hybrid-battery recycling program, but the Yellowstone project is an example of how the company is researching ways to extend the life of those batteries.

“As exemplified by the Lamar Buffalo Ranch project, Toyota’s mission-driven philanthropic focus and expertise in sustainability will make a difference in Yellowstone for generations to come,” said Karen Bates Kress, president of the Yellowstone Park Foundation, in a statement.