Imagine the Impact
A family farm in rural Nepal. An emergency medical tent in Syria. A village water well in Mali. An isolated research station in Yellowstone National Park. While vast stretches of the world are beyond the reach of conventional power sources, their energy demands are no less urgent. Even when these demands are met by diesel-generated power sources, environmental challenges of noise and air pollution remain. But imagine if being off-grid did not mean being vulnerable or ecologically unsound. What would that look like?
Toyota’s innovative work at Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone National Park is bringing us closer than ever to a picture of our sustainable future. By capturing solar energy and storing it in 208 used batteries from Camry Hybrid vehicles, Toyota has engineered a first-of-its-kind program that demonstrates how clean power can be stored and distributed almost anywhere in the world through recovered hybrid vehicle batteries. In doing so, the project doubles the functional lifespan of its hybrid batteries and brings renewable, zero-emission energy to one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world.
See for Yourself
“We feel that we have a responsibility to help manage resources. A lot of those resources are the environment around us,” says Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America. “That’s really what this idea of going and seeing, or genchi genbutsu, is all about because it helps to put things in context.” Lentz is referring to an essential Toyota production principle based on a Japanese expression that means “go and see.” Genchi genbutsu is a problem-solving approach adopted by Toyota engineers who seek insight and functional solutions through careful observation and immersion in their environment.
By working closely with researchers at Lamar Buffalo Ranch and observing the conditions and needs of the region, the car manufacturer’s engineers developed and implemented a design for repurposing recovered hybrid vehicle batteries for energy storage. “As we looked at what to do with these batteries at the end of their useful life we saw there was an opportunity,” says Kevin Butt, Toyota’s General Manager and Regional Environmental Director. “We came out for a visit and realized there’s a real need here.” That need led to a groundbreaking opportunity.
We can take this project to remote locations and apply it to different challenges. There are many places in the world where local people have to walk for miles for water, even though there are perfectly good wells beneath their feet. So we could adapt this system for water pumps. We could build refrigeration units so people can store food longer. We could power a health clinic to serve in an emergency situation. We could provide electricity for rural schools. And we don’t necessarily have to go to a developing country to make an impact. We can do this right here in America.
Finding New Roads
Toyota’s success at Yellowstone is just the beginning. With some eight million Toyota hybrid vehicles on the road today, the potential for achieving secondary benefits from used batteries seems limitless. The most immediate solutions for renewable power may be just around the corner. “Anywhere in the world that has a need for power that is off the grid could work with this,” says Lentz. Opportunities for innovations in sustainability are not always easy to see; the reveal themselves only to those who study a challenge thoughtfully, observe closely, and imagine possibilities. In other words, a bit of Genchi genbutsu goes a long way.