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Better Place has demonstrated a prototype battery swapping machine for leccy cars, able to exchange the flat battery of a modified Nissan with a fully charged one in just over 60 seconds. Can't see the video? Download Flash Player from Adobe.com Better Place’s CEO, Shai Agassi, claimed its robo-swapper has even managed to …

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Grand Pooh-Bah of the Second Orange Order

I don' t think the problem is going to be the expense (anyone know how much it costs to build an 8-pump petrol station?) or the fitting/handling of diferent battery packs, but the storage of the various batteries required. The one removed from that car looked to be at least 1.5 x 1.5 x 0.5m overall. How many of those will you need for a day's worth of swaps? And that 's without factoring in the need to carry a reasonable number of battery packs for each different style of vehicle.

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Anyone who owns a laptop...

will know that not all batteries are equal, they degrade substantially with use. I suspect that the batteries for an e-car will probably be one of the most expensive parts of the vehicle - this seems almost akin to going to a garage and getting your engine swapped. Who is going to want to swap their brand new battery for one that has done 50,000 miles/100+ charges?

Swappable, rechargeable batteries will be a very short lived solution - fuel cells are a much better idea.

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Great idea

This is a good idea. It could actually make electric cars viable for long journeys. I don't see why it is such a difficult idea to have a standard physical size battery. The car manufacturers are being difficult on purpose. We have standard batteries for lots of gadgets - I really don't see the issue. Maybe the battery manufacturers could come up with a standard.

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@Brutus

You could get around some of that by having to "book" your battery swap on-line. I can't see battery swap stations ever being run along the same 'roll in a random, fill up and drive away' idea as petrol stations, but if you planned to drive from London to Glasgow in your electric car it would be easy enough to plan a battery swap in Manchester and book it the day before so when you roll up the system has the right battery in the right place at the right time. As long as swap stations also have a decent number of high voltage charging posts on hand to cope with the random visitor it could work rather well.

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Re: Brutus

I see what you mean, but if the swap station has very high capacity charging on site then they won't need more than, say, half an hours supply. As each battery is removed, it just gets connected to a very high current charger and is ready to go into another vehicle in half an hours time*.

And I believe the article pointed out the necessity to agree on a standard battery size/shape before it becomes viable.

* Half an hour is an arbitrary figure I plucked from thin air to illustrate the point :)

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Anonymous Coward

Have they been reading 70s children's books?

...because this is exactly how Usborne books portrayed the future of the electric car with service stations swapping batteries.

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Anonymous Coward

Simple..

All the batteries are owned by the petrol stations and kept within 80% efficiency bands.

As soon as they drop below that they are recycled.

You never swap "your" battery out because the car is purchased with the petrol stations battery installed.

This would also bring down the cost of electric cars because the petrol stations foot the bill for a large expensive part of the car. The battery..

The ROI would still be worth it too.

Also, storage wont be a problem because they batteries are kept in cars most of the time.

Probably only need to store 100 of them, especially as you can charge them faster using industrial voltages.

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Stop

My word

That is the cleanest underside of a car I have ever seen! I wonder how well it will work with a car that has actually been used for a day or two, let alone 6 years?

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Coat

Fresh horses, my good man!

Reminiscent of t'olden days, when horse-drawn cariiages would stop to get fresh horses at various stages in their journeys.

Mine's the one with the pistol and rapier.

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Stu
Alert

Ohhhhh so many...

...different ways this could go wrong, leaving you high and dry without a car battery correctly re-installed!

Just look at the automotive robotic systems we have in place today - your typical car wash. Those things go on the blink all the time, are out of service for weeks. Plus it destroys your wing mirrors / car aerial / leaves scratch marks etc. Not to mention it failing to clean your car properly.

.

Just one little slip up, misalignment anywhere, part failure, too much torque applied somewhere, and you're left trying to lift a 60+ Kg battery pack back into your car on your own.

.

victim : "Help me, your bloody machine has de-threaded my battery mounting bolts!"

petrol station cashier : "Sorry mate, can't help - queue is too long."

victim : "I'll see you in court."

.

Plus I'm not sure I'd want my shiny new leccy car battery replaced with some 2 year old battery with a range of 10 miles cos its been used so much.

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Silver badge

It won't work

Clever technology, but impractical on a large scale. Even ignoring the argument raised by steogede above, what happens to the flat batteries after replacement? If they're recharged on site, then each 'filling station' will require a multi-megawatt power supply running 24 hours a day. If they're shipped off to some central site then you'll need fleets of (electric?) goods vehicles to move them around the country - compare this with a single tanker arriving (say) daily to deliver 40,000 litres of fuel - that's 1.4TJ (400,000 kWh) of energy.

The fundamental problem is that we have no technology in sight that can get within an order of magnitude of the energy density of petroleum. Until we do, electric vehicles will be confined to short commuting trips within a city.

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Happy

batteries make good cap's :)

Batteries are better than fuel cells because they can keep the national grid charged at night. Any solar energy factored into the grid has to be backed up. At the moment this is by fossil or nuclear but in future this could be by cars at night. Fuel cells can't back up our green energy so we might as well go 100% nuclear if you are proposing fuel cells as a viable option. I don't think massive amounts of nuclear energy fueling a hydrogen economy is a bad thing. It just seems like a round-the-houses hugely inefficient way of doing something that could be alot easier.

@steogede: I think this could be benficial to the 'swap shops' if they finally become common place. They can offer more than one type of service. Want a newer battery, want one thats been tested to hold its charge well, want the latest most powerful super battery, its all there for them to sell to you. The shops will need to record part numbers and vehicles so that if you claim your 5 year old, 80'000 mile battery pack has just finished its first charge cycle and you would like a similarly new battery to replace it they can track you down and file suit. Much like driving off the forecourt without paying.

Nice points Daniel, it does seem like the battery manufacturers need to get in before the car producers so that the car producers are working to one standard.

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Bod
Bronze badge

@Peter Bond

Problem is one battery charge will barely get you to Watford Gap let alone Manchester. You'd need half a dozen swaps to get to Glasgow.

And how often can we all plan ahead and book in for these swaps?

How much CO2 is going to be used in producing the materials for the swap stations and storage depots for such a vast amount of batteries, not to mention the transportation costs to replace and dispose of end-of-life batteries, and the production of the batteries themselves? How much are these swaps going to cost us and how will the government ensure they get 80% tax on it?

Still yet to see their practical solution for home charging also. A cable out the door to the street is not a solution for those who don't have a drive or garage (or have garages in blocks far away), not to mention a H&S hazzard and an invite to youth scum who will inevitably vandalise them (same with a charge point on the pavement), and how are they going to stop your neighbour nicking your leccy?

We've said it time and time again and they're not listening.

FUEL CELLS FFS!

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Bent garages

... and don't forget the ready market in "reconditioned" cells, and a mysterious shortage of house bricks near replacement stations. After all, you can't drive back to the place to complain you ran out of juice too soon, can you?

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This would only work if you did not own your batteries, just leased them.

If the motor manufacturers did not sell you the car with batteries, you just bought the car and then leased the batteries, then the car manufacturers could establish battery swap stations all over the place and perhaps at motorway services etc.

This would mean the batteries could be continually monitored for degradation etc. In addition they could sell on other services to the drivers, like in & out servicing etc.

Clearly there would have to be some regard to the monopolistic tendencies of the manufacturer but is that not what the MMC are for?

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Gold badge
Stop

Re: Great idea

I've said it before and I'll say it again.

If you're so clever, you design a battery pack that'll cater to both the space requirements of a two-seat city car and the power requirements of a 2.5 tonne SUV. Ensure that it's completely future proof as battery technology improves / changes.

Looking at the video, I'd say that that'll have trouble with next year's model of the same car, let alone something a completely different size and shape. $500,000 is a lot to pay for something that effectively comes with the word "obsolescent" stencilled on most of the bits.

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Anonymous Coward

Why need stations at all?

I still don't understand why people actually want to go to somewhere -- normally out of their way -- to get more petrol\charge\whatever into their vehicle? Why are people so averse to charging their cars overnight at their own home? No extra infrastructure would be required for this, unlike these battery swap operations or new hydrogen stations.

Obviously we will need the grid to provide the extra power, so where can this come from? The answer would seem to be in the latest generation of submarine, their reactors which are sealed and run for at least 25 years generate tens of megawatts. Given the staggering loss of energy in transmission alone, why not have one of these for each town in a sensible location? (And before the nimbys object too much, as yourself would you be happy having a Navy submarine docked in your town?)

This would cover the vast majority of journeys (home->work->supermarket->home or 40-50 miles per day?) and yes something like this scheme would need to be in place for longer journeys, but that shouldn't stop us from moving forward.

People need to think outside of the current convention. I would imagine when the internal combustion engine was taking over from the horse people thought that having to travel to a set location to fill up was a major inconvenience. I'd expect the same thing to happen in the next jump in technology.

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Not my car, and not my dime

First, as someone noted, the battery packs will vary in quality. We'll be paying upwards of $15K for our battery pack in a new car, I'm not letting you swap it for a 4 year old pack built using cheap components and lesser grade batteries. F* no!

Next, forget the cost of the robot, the packs are $15K each... You'll need hundreds to get through a day. Most of these packs would also be swapped at freeway stations, long distance filling spots, and they could need hundreds or thousands of them to make it thorugh a day.

third: it's not just storage of the packs, they'll need to be shuffled back and forth between stations, DAILY. They weigh hundreds of ounds. This will require additional motor assits or robots, lots of trucks, and men to do the work on the cheap...

Fourth: charging. Swap the pack, you still need to recharge it. This means not only storage, but cabled storage, and large scale smart charging systems that make sure batteries are not only in stock, but to know which one is ready to go in the next car... If you need the charging stations anyway, just build charging stalls for people to park in and charge...

Fifth: it's mostly irrlelvent! By the time we get 200 of these stations built we'll be shipping cars using Li-Ti batteries that charge to 85% in 5 minutes or less. It takes me 3-6 minutes to fill the gas tank in my Van today (depending on the pump speed), 5 minutes to go 200+ miles is not an issue. Besides, i'll have gas backup to extend that range to more like 400 miles, and I (or someone lese in the car) do need to pee every 3-4 hours anyway... On long trips, those pit stops are never less than 10-15 minutes for us.

Sixth: Inventory. We're hard up enough producing enough battery packs to put in the carrs rolling off the lot. You'll need to multiple that number by 5 to keep up with demand for packs to be stored at stations.

7th: Manufacturers: not only will it be IMPOSSIBLE (let alone cooperativley, but also from a simple design perspective) to put the same battery in every car, let alone the same battery capacity in every car. Even using modular packs with smaller cars having 1 or 2 and larger cards having 4 or 6, you're still talking about structural limitations on where a battery can fit ubder a car (and most are not UNDER cars, but under seats, in trunks, packed in around the front hood, etc). There's NO WAY to make this a universal system...

8th: Cost: Filling a battery costs electricity, a chaep meter, a cable, and a guy to watch. Replacing a battery STILL costs that, PLUS an expensive robot requiring maintenance, large numbers of replacable packs, guys to move them, places to store them, infrastructure to support them, this is simply assonine. Even if it would take 30 minutes to get a full charge, a 400 mile hybrid range is worth 15-20 extra minutes per stop if it costs 1/4th as much... Charging a battery costs about half what gasoline goes today to go the same distance. So, 400 miles should cost about $25 (including the gas to double the range). Swapping a battery (plus the gas to double the range) would cost not less than $80 by rough estimates, assuming a full 1000 charges per battery pack before it's thrown out. Between my home in the south and upstate NY, a trip i take frequently, I'd need to start full and fill up twice on the way. Replacing my battery packs would cost nearly $100 more and save me what, 40 minutes? IT'S NOT WORTH IT!

This is a crock plan cooked up by the NiCad folks, who's batteries take 3-8 hours to charge. The Li-Po and Li-Ti batteries charge in minutes, 30 tops. you charge to 85%, not 100%... You stop more often (1 extra stop every 1200 miles or so) but you save hours doing so.

No, you'll never see 10 minute charges at home. a 400Amp house circuit might get you a 2 hour charge, but a 4 phase high power line at a filling station can top off a 40KwH battery pack in 5 minutes... and it's safe. You'll need hydrolic assist to move the cable around (it;s about 6" in diameter, and uses interlocking flexi joints (it;s not a cable that bends on it;s own, it only bends at joints), but even a child could move the cab;e to the car with an assist system and plu it in to a resonably universally located port (where a gas insert is today, just in the front half of the car to maintain safe seperation from the existing fuel port, which hybrids will still have).

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Anonymous Coward

Standards & Owndership

There's a standard hole for petrol nozzles.

You don't own the battery in Better Place's vision, you pay for mileage much like you pay for minutes with a mobile phone. So the battery quality is irrelevant.

This system looks like it requires very specific wheel alignment though..

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Coat

I Guess There Won't Be Any Crooks in FutureWorld™

Just sayin'.

All it takes is one or two crooked stations to buy sub-par Chinese knockoffs, and replace your first-class batteries with them.

I guarantee that there will be a LOT more than "one or two" crooked merchants, judging from the service stations I see hereabouts...

Mine's the striped one...

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Fuel cells could be compatible too

With a bit of careful design, there's no reason why a fuel cell could not be plugged in to the same space as a battery: after all a fuel cell is just a different form of rechargeable power store.

So I don't see there being a conflict with fuel cells and batteries - the stations can start offering a fuel cell refilling option alongside the battery swap during the transition period.

It might even be safer to pop the fuel cell unit out to refill it in a safe area (esp. if hydrogen is the fuel) and then pop it back in using the same robots...

I suspect it might be better to have the access to the battery in the sides or ends of the vehicle - maybe the driver opens a hatch and the robot can get in that way - it could solve a lot of the cleanliness/water seal problems.

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Boffin

@Why need stations at all?

"Why are people so averse to charging their cars overnight at their own home? "

If you actually bother to think beyond your own closed existence, you'll realise pretty quickly that thats impossible for the majority of urban car owners. Fine for the rural driver but not most city drivers who would benefit most from battery technology.

For example, in my building, which is a very common layout, there are four flats over three floors. At least one of those flats is entirely on the rear of the building so that guy has no access to his own power supply. Even if you implement some kind of kerb mounted token operated charging socket, there is still only room on the road outside the building to park slightly less than two cars nose to tail. You would end up taking pot luck who got a turn at charging up each night!

Look, its a total non starter - DO MORE RESEARCH INTO FUEL CELLS! (Which don't necessarily need to use Hydrogen as the catalyst by the way, although its about the least noxious substance you could choose. Alcohol works as well as does Chlorine)

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@Bod

Glasgow is 403 miles from London while Manchester is 208. A Tesla Roadster could easily make that trip with one stop at Manchester for a new battery. A hydrogen fuel cell powered electric car is a great idea but only once they work out how to make the fuel cells and get hold of the hydrogen on something even remotely approaching a cost effective basis. As for planned journeys, I do a fair amount of cross country motoring, but tend not to hop in the car and head to Scotland on the spur of the moment!

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Paris Hilton

Wouldn't it be simpler to synthesise fuel?

With so many of the glorious problems listed above and the wonderful energy density of petroleum, would it not be easier to invent a technology that sucked CO2 from the air combined with a bit of water and generated petroleum.... You might not need megawatt power stations next to each filling station and those tankers sure pack a punch - Tera Joules Wow!

On a similar note who volunteers to sit in their car while the L-Po or L-T battery soaks up half a megawatt in 30 seconds - or whatever. Based on the performance of the F1 batteries this term it feels a lot more dodgy than sitting with a fuel tank a few feet behind you. Very few people seem to be harmed these days during refueling (none?) but how many L-T batteries do you reckon will go ballistic before the technology "matures".

Ms P - as she knows all about....

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Anonymous Coward

@ Sean Healey

Why would the home charging stations need to be physically connected to your flat? That would never work. Not least where I live in London you'd be lucky to park in front of your own property and next to your own charge point. You're right that wouldn't work here.

What's wrong with placing recharge points on the road? Big undertaking? As much as placing parking meters on the road. But how would you be charged and what about security? I think with rfid technology your car can be correctly identified and the cost correctly charged. There is nothing here that is not achievable with today's technology.

The problem with other fuels is which to chose? Are all those compatible within the same engine? How would their emissions effect the local community? Are they viable for mass consumption? How do you make them safe in a crash situation? (I'm pretty sure Chlorine is a very toxic substance.) It would seem there is still a lot needed in development. Why not develop these solutions to provide electricity for the grid in a local power generation scheme to lower the cost of our electricity needs?

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Boffin

@AC

"What's wrong with placing recharge points on the road?"

- If you'd see the sort of scumbags who wander the streets at night around where I live, you wouldn't even bother considering that. You're right about parking - I often don't even get to park in my own *street*.

- In the case of mass uptake, you're talking about dozens of vehicles in each street each with its own cable attached to a point at the kerb, which creates a hell of a mess for a start even with short cables. What sort of extra load does this place on the under street cabling anyway?

- RFID is trivial to fool so thats a non starter. There isn't a current digital transaction technology that is even relatively safe from abuse, so you might want to think that one through a bit more.

-Another negative is that kerbside charging infrastructure is a politicians wet dream. It is the perfect excuse to both monitor and tax the urban motorist in new and interesting ways. Screw that ... we've had enough trouble fighting off the imposition of CPZs proposed by our local authority. Twice. In one year.

"The problem with other fuels is which to chose? Are all those compatible within the same engine?"

What engine? There is no engine in a fuel cell vehicle. Its all electric. Chlorine is just one example - what about Alcohol? That has none of the big danger you see in top-fuel motor racing since no combustion is involved. That and it is currently being produced commercially by the bio-ethanol industry. Fuel cell vehicles have been successfully prototyped and shown to work well. There is enough potential to make further research and development well worth the effort, to fine tune issues such as methods for refuelling and safe/compact onboard storage.

Regarding 'cheaper' electricity - thats an illusion. Your power bills from the utility company might be slightly lower per unit, but the new nuclear power stations required to supply the extra juice are going to be costing you more in huge unseen subsidies funded by YOU in the tax you pay to the government. Not to mention the astronomical amounts you are already paying to decommission the old ones. Funny how the power company shareholders don't seem to footing THAT bill, huh?

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Happy

Bah

The batterys will be owned by who ?

Who gets stuffed with the cost of replacement batterys, the service station ?, the poor smo who used it last (sorry sir can't give you another one your last one won't hold a charge anymore)

If all the batteries are wholey owned by BP fer instance then it will be uncompetitive.

Picture the Service station on a entrance to the M1, it will need a wharehouse just for the damm duff batteries as everyone has to pop in for a new one to make sure they can finish the journey.

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