back to article Tesla unveils battery-swapping tech for fast car charging

Even as Tesla Motors labors to build out its North American network of "Supercharger" recharging stations, the electric carmaker has unveiled an additional system that promises to get its vehicles juiced up and ready to run in less time than it takes to fill a traditional car's tank with fuel. At an event at Tesla's Hawthorne, …

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Anonymous Coward

There is a slight problem

Both of these ideas - fast chargers and battery swaps won't work for most people for obvious reasons which appear to have escaped Tesla - perhaps intentionally? Who is going to drive 50-200 miles out of their way to find a fast charging station or get a battery swapped? A lot of battery power would be consumed just running to and from the charging or battery swap site and the route a person would be traveling. Tesla is looking desperate which is no surprise considering EVs are so impractical that all they are good for is city use.

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Re: There is a slight problem

And yet the majority of the worlds driving population live in or around cities....so being only practical for city use isn't such a disadvantage....Not that I think that is the case of course. On my drive home from work, on my favourite route, which is about 35 miles. I do not pass ONE petrol station once I leave Cambridge. So you could argue it's not just electric cars that suffer the problem.

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Re: There is a slight problem

I dont think that this has escaped anyone but you. Yes there are only a few that are open today, but there are many more scheduled to be opening through 2013 and beyond. Check out their site for the chargers to see where they will be added. Granted today they are pretty limited, but from their plans they will be available on many major highways within the next 1/2 to 1 year.

By fall you will be able to go up and down both coasts and by next year you can cross the US using several routes. I am guessing that since they have a page dedicated to the release dates that they are aware of this.

http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger

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Re: There is a slight problem

"nd yet the majority of the worlds driving population..." are not ever going to afford a Tesla so wtf do they care?

If you ever did run out of petrol, you could hitch a ride and come back with 5l of fuel. Try do that with a leccy!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There is a slight problem

I don't think that Tesla is "looking desperate" - they are at least thinking about the issues of electric cars and working on ideas to address them. I think in-city, electric cars can have a possible future but I see two immediate issues:

1 - the cars tend to be a lot more expensive. For the moment, residual value is still somewhat of a mystery, as the technology keeps improving the question is what happens to the old cars - I'd say any manufacturer will either have to plan in a decent upgrade process or face questions from intelligent customers. This also has an impact of the cost over the lifetime of the car: how much fuel do you need to save to repay what you spent more to buy the car?

2 - the active radius of a full fuel tank is still substantially higher than that of a single charge. That $99 vs $50 comparison doesn't look that glorious when you consider that a 2.0l diesel engine like the ones you can find in the lower model Audis actually gets over 1000km out of a single tank, which drops to about 600-700 if you have a lead foot and a German motorway in between the A and B endpoints of your journey (been there, done that and that was at a measured average speed of 165 km/h). So, from a practical perspective that comparison doesn't work - hybrids do better there.

However, if you can charge the car for free, the money equation changes quite considerably. And it strikes me as a lot more fun to drive - someone has one of them where I'm working right now and it's hard to catch the owner because you never hear him arrive :). Tesla has at least addressed the issue of electric cars being boring - these cars seem fun to drive.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There is a slight problem

@Charles Manning,

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/automobiles/stalled-on-the-ev-highway.html

That pretty much sums up what you were thinking, right?

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Re: There is a slight problem

IIt would be better if they had a "limp home" small fuel driven generator built in. Enough to get you a hundred miles at 30mph etc. Sure that makes it a hybrid but also ensures you wont be stranded anywhere.

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Meh

When they

When they develop an electric car that has a range of 500 miles at 80mph and does this on two Duracell AA batteries I will buy one. Until then I will continue polluting the atmosphere.

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Re: There is a slight problem

If my memory is correct some makers have "battery extender" petrol engines. Or even rechargable hybrids, so that both residual energy from the petrol motor (the hybrid bit) and mains electricity can power the leccy motor.

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Re: When they @LarsG

What an utterly stupid thing to say.

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Re: When they @LarsG @ James Hughes 1

Only the bit about the two very small batteries. The rest is quite sensible. I expect to get at least 300 miles out of a charge without degrading the battery significantly - the same as I get out of a tank of petrol in my Subaru.

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I imagine they said the same thing about the first petrol filling stations and cars.

This sounds like a real solution to the short range of electric cars, Renault had the same idea a few years ago. The difficulty is in putting it into practise, its going to cost a fortune in the short term until sufficient volumes of cars are using them. I can see the batteries being replaced by the supplier AKA portable camping gas supplies long term, much more practical.

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The first petrol stations and cars...

Petrol allowed a completely different history.

Firstly, cars would typically carry 20+ litres of petrol in cans strapped to the running boards etc. That gave them extra range.

Then wagonwrights and general stores would keep and sell cans of petrol to the odd car that drove past.

As vehicle traffic picked up, they shifted to bulk petrol sold from bowsers and then eventually the specialist petrol station emerged.

That model worked because the overheads were relatively low. The capital commitment was just the cans and the only tool required was a funnel.

In theory, the battery people could do the same thing. They could get petrol stations and general stores to stock swapper batteries, but those are far too expensive and you need a lot of gear to effect the battery change. And hopefully everyone would be able to use the same battery formats.

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Pint

"I imagine they said the same thing about the first petrol filling stations and cars"

Yeah, and there were probably petrol fanbois back in 1886 that failed to understand that it would be *decades* until the petrol powered car became truly and honestly practical.

Seems like the same thing here.

Look at the bright side. Every outrageous over-hyped BS lie about the practicality of a new technology eventually becomes true. E.g. 1970's AI to IBM's Watson, how many years?

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Re: The first petrol stations and cars...

It seems like a similar situation now. Pull up to any business with a power outlet and beg or buy a few hours of charge when you are running low. Yes it might be inconvenient, but it hardly seems like you will be stranded for days.

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Stop

Apples and pears

Not a like for like comparison - a full tank of Tesla will get you 300 miles. 87L of petrol (even in a 2.3L engine) will get you a lot further.

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Re: Apples and pears

Not sure the exact model of Audi, but it looks like perhaps an A6 which has an official range on a full tank of 499 miles. So, less than twice the range for ~$100 of gas. If it costs $50 for 300 miles in a Tesla, and $100 for 499 in an Audi then the Tesla is looking good.

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Re: Apples and pears

For that range in a tesla it will be hypermiling though. Not so in the audi.

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Re: Apples and pears

"If it costs $50 for 300 miles in a Tesla, and $100 for 499 in an Audi then the Tesla is looking good."

Today, yes. Tomorrow yes. But if EV's start to pick up, then the government will need to replace lost tax revenues, and electricity prices will need to double or treble for the carbon free generation that the EV fans want.

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Re: Apples and pears

The weakness being, you need to return to the original swap station for your battery pack. Assuming it hasn't been put in someone elses car.

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WTF?

Re: complicated...

> complicated, expensive and inconvenient.

I can see many arguable objections, but seriously: "inconvenient"? Complicated?

In what way exactly?

You drive up, stuff happens, and you drive away. How much simpler does it get?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: complicated...

... it might be simple to use, but it's certainly not simple equipment. They even admit it's part of their assembly line in the video, ignoring it's probably all automated... so Dave and Jim probably aren't manually lugging around a 500kg battery pack. I've not looked into it, but I assume they probably have the same degradation issues as other batteries and whilst a $50 replacement battery is great for the consumer... it's not great for Tesla

I can imagine the outlay, relatively for the first petrol station vs one of these pack replacement station even adjusted for inflation is well on Teslas side....

The largest problem for me with it is clearly Tesla batteries won't work with other EVs... either Tesla won't want them too, or the other manufacturers will have other ideas. I don't think we've seen the EVs final form yet, I'm not actually sure any of the technology is totally ready for mass market adoption... though from a certain standpoint, in terms of actual cars I'd like to own, and being well, pretty smart, Tesla is by far and away the closest.

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Re: complicated...

The "complicated" bit is keeping "your" battery.

Surely it would be better to buy a Tesla which has a battery in. That battery is not yours, it belongs to "the pool". Part of the Tesla's cost to you is adding to that pool. That battery may be new, maybe old. When it goes flat, swap it out. You get a replacement to keep until it goes flat, the charge station keeps your old one. Repeat.

When charged each battery is tested. Below a certain level of "not charging fully" it is retired.

Chances are you never see your "first" battery again, but as it was never yours, it does not matter.

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Re: complicated...

The Calor Gas model. Buy the energy, borrow the container.

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Unhappy

Re: complicated...

The trouble is that a battery degrades with age, and that the degradation is a function of how it is used. In contrast a Calor gas container is pretty much binary: OK with 100% capacity, or completely fubar.

The only way I can see to make it work would be for every electric car owner to pay a one-time battery fee (transferrable, refundable when the car is scrapped) and for all batteries to be owned by the motor company (or by the national battery bank(*) ). That, plus standardized batteries and swap-robotics across all electric cars. That, plus some in-battery circuitry so that its charge capacity is known when it's swapped, and folks not needing full range would get a discount on an age-degraded battery.

It's not impossible, but it maybe points at a need to give up private ownership of the cars themselves. The Streetcar model?

(*) I mean bank. They used to use gold as capital. Now they use lies. Why not use Lithium?

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In other electric car news...

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2013/06/nissan-zeod-rc/

Like it or not (and for some reason a lot of people here don;t like it) electric cars appear to be the future. I'm looking forward to it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: In other electric car news...

Fuel cell is the future. Guess what, you could make a hybrid fuel cell and they complement each other. The car uses electricity and a fuel cell and a battery can both provide it. This makes the need for battery swaps not a requirement. If you want to use only the battery you can charge the car at home, want to go further you will the tank with hydrogen. If the hydrogen leaks out, then you still have the battery to get you to a filling station. On the side of the road, a wrecker could have a tank of hydrogen to give you some to get you going again.

The major advantage of hydrogen here, no specialist station. Buy a Tesla and you need to use a Tesla station for the battery swap. What happens if the Tesla station is broke? Easy to go to a different hydrogen station, not so easy for the Tesla.

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FAIL

Re: In other electric car news...

"electric cars appear to be the future"

In some utopian vision, yes. More realistically they will at best be a small part of the future, because if they were a large part of future mobility then you very, very quickly run into electricity generation capacity limits, and into grid capacity constraints. In the UK, for example, transport energy demand is about 45% greater than total domestic energy demand from all sources including gas. But UK transport energy use is six times the amount of domestic energy supplied by electricity. You'd also dramatically exacerbate peak demand problems, although perhaps changing the time of day when they occur.

Even if you only converted half of your transport to EVs, then you're still quadrupling domestic sector electricity use, and neither the national grid, local distribution, or generation sectors would be able to cope with that. Just to cope with wind and solar, the EU needs to spend €10^12 on the electricity network. How much would that be with quadrupled domestic demand?

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Re: In other electric car news...

People have been saying this for almost as long as there have been cars, and it still isn't so. The fact that Tesla turn a profit only on the back of energy credit blackmail payments from other industries tells you everything you need to know.

Electric cars are not green miracles - they simply shift the emissions elsewhere. Tesla's operation simply exploits California's laws on carbon exchange and NIMBY attitude to pollution - in the same way Google et al exploit the UK's tax laws....

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Re: In other electric car news...

Almost every other car company only makes a profit on their investment arm and car financing deals.

Others like GM have only ever made money by threatening to go bust if the government doesn't bail them out regularly.

Just about every airline has been in chapter11 since it was founded - that doesn't mean flying is impractical

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Flame

Re: In other electric car news...

@YAAC - those are all straw men arguments. None of the situations you describe were engineered to be that way from the start.

Tesla exploit legal structures regarding green taxes to make their business model sound and the watermelons applaud them for their high moral stance (because they believe it is motivated by planet-saving). Google et al do the same with corporation tax and they are pilloried for it.

Seems it is not what you do but the pretensions you do it under.

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Re: Electric cars are not green miracles

Yep. This electric car mania reeks of the human Tesla's obsession with wireless transmission of electricity. If he'd managed to make that work, maybe there would be a place for an electric car.

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Interesting idea Wonder how compatible it is with "Better Place"

Because if it is then they can pick up a bunch of charging stations cheap.

Giving people the choice between a free (but battery hammering) charging technology or a charged (but fast) swap system is a smart move. If Tesla can leverage this and get it adopted by other mfgs they can become major players in the infrastructure market. Why build your own when you can license or rent use of some one else infrastructure?

Thumbs up for the idea.

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This would work well in Quebec, where we have a lot of power generation capacity that's clean. Maybe we could stop giving the power away to compagnies owned overseas and use it ourselves ...

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"Their batteries will be fully charged, but they'll have to pay for a second swap to get them back."

My understanding is that there is no charge for the swap that gives you your own battery back, if done at the same station that removed it. You will have to pay if you ask them to ship it elsewhere.

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It makes more sense for them to have a rental fee for batteries, and if they have a decent recycling system, new batteries won't cost that much

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FAIL

Nice idea but doesnt work

Seriously... it becomes impractical for a station to do this.. and there is no way to track if the battery is older, newer, what's the price if newer, what does the station do with the older...

Ultimately.. you need to FIND a station that does this and it costs more than charging and that's what you wanted to save money for high prices of gas. You're already paying a much higher cost for the electric car (which already DOES NOT surpass the amount of gas money you'd save)

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WTF?

Re: Nice idea but doesnt work

erm, tracking is easy, stick an RFID tag on it and link to your customer DB. Tells you when it was build, who owns it, how many miles it's done, what the current max range/charge is, if it's close to needing replacement etc etc. Bear in mind these types of cards do phone home, so send stats back to home base.

Value will probably be a simple formula based the max charge (ergo range) it can hold and the age.

I'd also suspect the cars already monitor the batteries for efficiency (i.e. we expect 300 miles range, but only got 280 this time, 270, 260... ...180: Recall notice on dash board "Your battery needs replacing, please make an appointment with your local dealer, or simply call into one of our Swap stations and request to keep the newly exchanged battery." Charge $50 plus the value of your battery deducted from the value of the exchanged battery, here's you bill.

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Meh

Re: Nice idea but doesnt work

"Seriously... it becomes impractical for a station to do this.. and there is no way to track if the battery is older, newer, what's the price if newer, what does the station do with the older..."

You have no idea what you're talking about.

This is not a D cell. It's a major subsystem which may or may not have inbuilt electronics ranging from an EPROM that gets up dated with every charge data/duration to its own processor.

IOW the battery tells the charge station all about itself. Otherwise it will have a bar code or RFID that will pull up its entire known life history and update it accordingly.

The first option allows more charging station autonomy, the second should give a more detailed service history and prediction of battery life expectancy. Either is viable.

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Re: Nice idea but doesnt work

All consumer rechargeable lithium batteries have a built-in "fuel gauge" chip to ensure they aren't overcharged.

It's not much of a leap to add enough Flash to store the entire history of the battery charge/discharge cycles!

The only ones you'll buy that don't are the hobbyist Li-Po cells for electric R/C aircraft and the like, where they basically will catch fire sooner or later.

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Re: Nice idea but doesnt work

Makes perfect sense. The battery already has all the smarts it needs to know who bought it, its condition, and if you prefer ale or lager. I am guessing the car is already tied into the cell system, get it a phone number of its own. Then your smart phone, home computer, or even voice prompt telephone attendent can tell you all you need to know. Including the plate number of every car that has ever shared the battery with you, if your turn signal lamp needs replacement, a picture of the lamp to show the guy in the auto parts store, if you need windshield wiper fluid, your tire pressure, and a picture of the last dog to lift its leg on that tire.

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same old problem

The same old problem is that everyone is using batteries. Batteries have never been great for convenience and keeping cost down. They are fast to drain and slow to charge.

Personally I think electric cars are the future and I wouldn't mind having one BUT I don't want a battery powered one when hydrogen fuel cell electrics have the same convenience as your current fuel cars.

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Changing batteries is "tech" now? Humanity is doomed. And 90 seconds? That's a minute and a half. Yeah OK; the battery pack weighs half a tonne so it's heavy. Milliseconds to check the ports are lined up and adjust for the difference; more milliseconds to look around and check nothing is coming towards the impending operation and let's be nice and call it 10 seconds to remove the old and slam the new battery in place.

90 seconds might be vaguely acceptable if it was done in a still-moving car and you didn't have to slow down (or had to stay below a certain speed whilst going past the garage); but it's fucking embarrassing if it's a sitting target..

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Stop

Unbolting the original unit (weighing 500KG IIRC), lowering it out of the car, moving it to one side, moving the replacement under the car, raising it into place and re-bolting it in place and you think you can do that safely & reliably in 10 seconds? Good luck with that.

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90 seconds still seems like a mighty long time for machinery dedicated to one single operation.

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Have you seen how long a HP printer can take to spit out it's first page? or power on? or accept a new cartridge?

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Anonymous Coward

FFS A formula one pit-crew couldn't change an engine in 10 seconds.

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Pint

42, of course...

http://youtu.be/te48ucoEvFI

(Amateur team of Royal Marines swapping an Escort engine in 70% of one minute.)

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MassXacceration=force

. Accelerating that mass and moving it at speed and then the reverse operation coming towards your expensive car doesn't sound too clever an idea. So 90 seconds to release and remove one, then move in and secure another seems pretty fast to me.

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