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Power Transportation Technology

Developing Battery Replacement Infrastructure For Electric Cars 369

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-free-of-charge dept.
FathomIT sends in a NY Times profile of Shai Agassi, owner of a company named Better Place, who is working to build the infrastructure to support large numbers of small-scale charging spots for electric cars, as well as fast, automated battery swap stations. "The robot — a squat platform that moves on four dinner-plate-size white wheels — scuttled back and forth along a 20-foot-long set of metal rails. At one end of the rails, a huge blue battery, the size of a large suitcase, sat suspended in a frame. As we watched, the robot zipped up to the battery, made a nearly inaudible click, and pulled the battery downward. It ferried the battery over to the other end of the rails, dropped it off, picked up a new battery, hissed back over to the frame and, in one deft movement, snapped the new battery in the place of the old one. The total time: 45 seconds."
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Developing Battery Replacement Infrastructure For Electric Cars

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  • Why bother? (Score:5, Funny)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @10:53AM (#27674765) Journal
    Swappable batteries will stop being cool as soon as the iCar comes out, anyway.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by master5o1 (1068594)
      Although, like the (gas) bottole-swap stations at some service stations [nz] ... Thsi could be done similar, too bad batteries are not like gas bottles (container is not seemingly unlimited use).
      • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Fortunato_NC (736786) <verlinh75@@@msn...com> on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:23AM (#27675099) Homepage Journal

        Actually, there are battery designs where the container can be reused an "unlimited" number of times. One such design is the vanadium redox battery [wikipedia.org]. Unfortunately, they do not begin to compare to lithium ion batteries in terms of energy density. However, if this tech or similar tech could be improved to the point where you could build an auto-sized vehicle that could get 150-200 miles per charge, then it's not hard to imagine a world where gas stations have been replaced by "electolyte swap facilities" where the discharged battery is "recharged" quickly by draining and replacing the electrolyte solutions. The same car could also be recharged by mains power at night.

        • by tuxgeek (872962)

          Necessity is the mother of invention
          Battery technology is advancing each year and will eventually get to the point where filling stations convert to recharge stations.

          I personally see a plug-in EV in my near future for short around town trips, charged with solar and wind generation. Would be nice to see charging stations develop eventually to permit longer trips.
          The day will come...

        • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Informative)

          by evanbd (210358) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @12:53PM (#27676133)

          Actually, vanadium redox *can't* be improved to that point. Take the molecular weight of the relevant ions and the reaction potential, and that will give you how many electrons at how many volts a kilogram of the relevant chemicals can produce, which is just a units conversion away from joules or watt-hours per kg. Add even a modest allowance for stuff to dissolve those ions in and acidify the solution, and it doesn't stand up to LiIon for capacity.

          However, capacity per kg isn't the only metric of interest -- cost and ease of refueling / recharging are both quite relevant. The lack of aging problems with the electrolyte is also useful. I suspect vanadium redox will never see widespread use outside of stationary load-leveling applications, but there's no guarantee of that.

          The other major tech to watch, of course, is EEStor's capacitors. They claim energy densities similar to current LiIon tech with a number of improved capabilities, but last I heard still hadn't (publicly) demonstrated a working prototype.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by guruevi (827432)

          I'm not sure if you want to be swapping electrolytes at a 'charging station'. Ever gone to a gas station and they had the hose leak? I know gas stations where that has been the case for at least 6 months, nobody is fixing it. Then there are the gas stations where the ground has to be sanitized after one of those large containers has sprung a leak, a preventable problem to begin with and regulations have required the container to be inside some type of enclosure for the last few years so you can imagine how

      • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hal2814 (725639) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:46AM (#27675323)
        I don't know about propane bottles, but CO2 bottles have to be checked periodically and recertified that they can hold air at the specified pressure. The tank itself doesn't go bad often but the control nozzle that screws into the tank will have to be replaced on occasion. The company I swap with handles that recertification. I presume if we were to go to a swap system for electric car batteries the company handled the swapping would be required to periodically make sure the batteries were tested and approved for safe and reliable usage.
    • by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:30AM (#27675147) Journal
      iCar? I suppose it will have some sort of circular gizmo to control which direction you want to go.
    • by mcrbids (148650)

      Shai Agassi is somebody I've been watching for a while. He's the only person I've seen with a plan that:

      1) Will not result in a loss of quality of life for US citizens

      2) Can eliminate the US' dependency on foreign oil.

      3) Can "fix" the problems that the power grid has with "alternative" energy sources, which generally produce energy as available rather than as needed.

      4) Will actually *save* money and resources over the current transportation system.

      5) Eventually result in a power grid that's virtually immune

  • Interesting... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bbowers (596225) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @10:54AM (#27674779) Journal
    I'm one to keep a car till it falls apart. I feel this might be a problem with a hybrid of sorts due to the battery life. I heard it rumored the battery replacement is a significant cost of the vehicle...not something I would want to deal with I don't think...
    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Informative)

      by sampson7 (536545) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:05AM (#27674883)
      Toyota has reported replacing none of its hybrid batteries in the 8 years that hybrids have been sold in North America (due to wear and tear). In other words, the rumor you heard is just that -- a baseless rumor.
      • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:26AM (#27675117)

        That's interesting, since a co-worker bought her Prius in 2002 and got a surprise battery replacement in 2006. (She hadn't noticed any problems, and isn't the type to ask questions; she took the car in for routine maintenance, they told her they'd replaced the battery and weren't charging her anything for it, she said "Cool!")

        I don't know how prevalent this is, but for my N=1, I'm seeing a 100% replacement rate at four years.

        Of course, the weasel words "due to wear and tear" let them get away with anything.

        • by wbo (1172247) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:39AM (#27675249)
          Ah, but which battery did they replace? The Prius uses a small Lead-acid battery for the gas engine in addition to the big main NiMH battery pack used for the electric motor.

          Depending on the environment, the Lead-acid battery can need regular replacement. The NiMH battery should not need replacing unless it was defective.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sampson7 (536545)
          There was a problem in several of the first generation batteries that was covered by a recall (including mine). I suspect that your co-worker was covered by the recall. My only point was that the concern expressed by the first poster -- that he would be stuck with the costs of replacing a battery as the car aged -- is not a legitimate concern.
        • by tuxgeek (872962)
          Perhaps the battery was replaced due to a manufacturing flaw or just a newer upgraded design.
          The fact that they performed the replacement at NO charge is a positive for the Prius. I know quite a few that have bought these hybrids, they all seem very happy with them.
        • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:57AM (#27675441)

          I am familiar with this recall because my wife has a 2007 Prius, and I would not buy a Prius until the bugs had been worked out of the system. This was one of the two noteworthy bugs.

          This problem was contamination or corrosion or something on the positive terminal resulting in increased resistance. The engine computer notes the increased internal resistance of the pack, says WTF, and sets a code. There is much debate as to the proper fix, with some dealerships swapping out the battery pack entirely, and some expending considerable labor hours completely disassembling the pack, cleaning the terminal, and reinstalling. In some countries they all swapped, in some they all rebuilt, probably depending entirely on the cost of local labor vs the cost of factory new.

          Also, I would take a wild guess that Japan told them it would take 15 minutes labor each, then the dealers found out it took 3 hours, and the end result is the first few people got the reassemble procedure and PO'd techs and the last few people all got the swap procedure. Perhaps if you make an appointment they'll assume you've got the time to do the reassemble procedure, vs if you're just there for an oil change you'll get the swap procedure.

          There is quite a bit of info on this on Google. But don't confuse it with the recall around 03, where the engine computer shut down the engine too quickly, so it would stall on the highway occasionally. That was a simple firmware flash.

          Other than that, a remarkably recall free vehicle, at least compared to domestic models.

          Also wear and tear weasel words do not apply until after 100K or 10 years whichever comes first.

          Finally since there is no market for the batteries, there is no 3rd party market for the batteries, thus the ridiculous $3K cost is the usual dealer and OEM markup. Just like you can pay $25 for an oil drain plug at the dealer, or $1 at autozone. I am sure that in a decade you'll be able to buy a prius battery from batteries plus for perhaps $300. If I recall correctly, its just a huge array of NiMH D cells, not anything exotic at all.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            Also wear and tear weasel words do not apply until after 100K or 10 years whichever comes first.

            Actually, if you look at most warranties they put those weasle words into the agreement, something along the lines of "Except for regular wear and tear", effectively making the warranty a "catastrophic failure" deal instead of the "if it breaks we fix it" agreement that covers everything. Also, it is the dealer who determines what is a failure and what is "wear and tear", which means they rarely pay out under the warranty if it is anything but completely obvious that the part should not have broken under t

    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Informative)

      by oldspewey (1303305) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:06AM (#27674905)
      The myth of poor battery reliability in hybrids is not bourne out by the real-world experience of hybrid taxis around the world. Specifically, the fact taxis have travelled 240,000 [greentaxi.org] or even 300,000 [jcwinnie.biz] miles with no major problems with the batteries or any other component of the hybrid system.
    • Re:Interesting... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by allawalla (1030240) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:08AM (#27674933)
      That's the advantage of swapping, some one else is worrying about battery replacement. Kind of like your BBQ propane tank, they get old, but its not your problem.
      • by sricetx (806767)
        That's the advantage of swapping, some one else is worrying about battery replacement. Kind of like your BBQ propane tank, they get old, but its not your problem.

        Yes, it would be your problem. Say that I have a brand new car with 150 miles on the battery. I go to one of these battery exchange stations and my new battery gets swapped out for a battery with 200,000 miles on it. That to me would be a big problem (and is why I have only used the BBQ propane exchanges when I have had very old tanks).
    • by Rei (128717)

      That's the problem with rumors, now isn't it?

      Not only is the "battery life problem" a complete myth (as was pointed out to you below), but so is the replacement price. It is not "a significant cost of the vehicle". Battery prices for *new* batteries on the Prius are $2,299 for the 2000-2003 model years and $2,588 for the 2004-2008 model years [autobloggreen.com]. You can get used ones for under $1k.

  • by flipper9 (109877) * on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @10:56AM (#27674793)

    In future news, Apple announces the release of their new, sleek iCar! With touch-screen capabilities, smooth acceleration, and lots of eye candy. Better Place, however has been stymied by the fact that the iCar's batter is sealed and hidden inside of the frame of the car, and cannot be swapped out. Millions of iCar fans can only hope to travel 250 miles and struggle to find their lost iCar charging adapters, while Microsoft and PC-maker made Windows-Roadsters take advantage of the Better Place swapping program.

    gCar and kCar enthusists, while having the first electric cars out there can be seen at the side of the road, can be seen hand-wiring in their own D-cell battery replacements every 100 feet, soldering gun in hand.

    • by dov_0 (1438253) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:08AM (#27674925)

      In future news, Apple announces the release of their new, sleek iCar! With touch-screen capabilities, smooth acceleration, and lots of eye candy. Better Place, however has been stymied by the fact that the iCar's batter is sealed and hidden inside of the frame of the car, and cannot be swapped out. Millions of iCar fans can only hope to travel 250 miles and struggle to find their lost iCar charging adapters, while Microsoft and PC-maker made Windows-Roadsters take advantage of the Better Place swapping program.

      gCar and kCar enthusists, while having the first electric cars out there can be seen at the side of the road, can be seen hand-wiring in their own D-cell battery replacements every 100 feet, soldering gun in hand.

      The only problem with the Better Place swapping program is that you have to hunt all over the place to find them, answer a stupifying amount of questions to gain access and then accept a GRA (Genuine Roadsters Advantage) tracking device/kill switch to make sure that you don't violate the TOS. The gCar and kCar include a Battery Manager that finds the nearest Power Stop for you, guides you there and charges the car for you when you arrive.

  • Makes Sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hasney (980180)

    Good idea this. The main complaint about totally electric cars is the charge time and this would negate this for a small cost. The company taking the battery could charge it up and use it as stock for the next hot-swap to come in.

    If they can get this right (both the infrastructure and the price for the service), it could really help electric car adoption in the future since you'll be able to "re-fuel" just like a normal car, in some respects.

    • by Rei (128717)

      You do realize how large battery packs are, right? And how heavy?
      And how different vehicle designs have radically different profiles, thus necessitating different battery profiles (traditional sedan like the Volt = center tunnel T; kei car = under the floor or seats; RWD large pack, trunk-shaped; etc)
      And weight distribution needs? (FWD, RWD, etc)
      And how different motors/inverters have different voltage requirements?
      And not just different target voltages, but specific ranges?
      And how different packs need to

  • One of the major benefits of this is that the batteries can be charged independently from the car being at-rest - basically, charge according to electricity supply rather than demand.

    When (if) we finally start to make the major switch to renewable electricity and electric cars (the only long-term sustainable solution for personal transport), we will need to ensure that our load on the electricity infrastructure meets supply. This is a good step in that direction. That, or charging stations with really big

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by orkysoft (93727)

      Yeah, the fact that they can charge the batteries at night, when electricity demand is lower, should be a big advantage.

      But if they're going to swap out the powerpacks at refueling stations, why should they actually be rechargeable batteries instead of some other power source that can be recharged in some other way (e.g. a more complicated chemical process that can be implemented at the refueling station)?

      • Re:Future benefits (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:43AM (#27675281) Journal
        They will be batteries because battery is what we call something that stores chemical energy and releases electrical energy. They may not be LiIon or whatever, but they will be some form of chemical storage of electrical energy. You raise an interesting question about the recharging mechanism, however. It may be that you can more efficiently recharge some batteries using a large charger - especially one that can replace the electrolyte with something different while recharging. I expect that if this takes off, we will start to see a lot of battery-swapping stations generating their own power. Think about all of those interstates where you have hundreds of miles of road with not much of interest along it. You could buy a few acres of land in the middle there quite cheaply, put solar arrays and / or wind turbines up and use it to charge batteries while there is power (i.e. during the day, or at windy times). You may even be able to sell battery power for less than the equivalent fossil fuel cost, because you don't have to ship the fuel out to the middle of nowhere.
  • by dov_0 (1438253) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:02AM (#27674843)

    When you buy a litre of petrol, it should take you a set distance. When you fill up on LPG, Hydrogen or whatever, the same is the case. There is one important factor in the battery swapping idea that is fundamentally different though. Batteries degrade and can at times do so in strange ways.

    Say, for example, that someone has let a spare battery sit idle for some months, charges it up at home and, knowing it's rubbish now, goes off to the nearest fuel stop to change it. Automated process charges it, dispenses it. You get stuck on the freeway after only a few kilometres.

    If you stick to your own battery, then you can tell the condition of the battery over time. No dramas. Even with thorough checking though, battery changing services have a lot of questions in regards to reliability and liabilities if it is to work. Who picks up the tab for a dead battery? The owner or the 'fuel' vendor?

    • by smolloy (1250188)

      Interesting point. In this case, perhaps the vendors could advertise on the fact that their batteries are guaranteed to output a certain number of Ampere.hours (at whatever voltage is is that these things run at)? They would then test and discard any substandard batteries.

      Does anyone know if battery testing technology is sufficiently advanced for this to be feasible?

      • by dov_0 (1438253) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:14AM (#27674999)

        Does anyone know if battery testing technology is sufficiently advanced for this to be feasible?

        Shouldn't be too hard. Apply a voltmeter and then draw a heavy current on a separate circuit over a set time. That should a reasonable indication of the basic quality of the battery. Same way you test a car battery now. Apply voltmeter, crank motor. If the voltage drops fast, the battery is toast.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by blind biker (1066130)

          That kind of test doesn't really work accurately. It only tells whether a chemical battery is completely (or almost) unusable, but otherwise it's remarkably unreliable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by robot_love (1089921)
        Or you could pay for the electricity used when you return it, as opposed to when you pick it up. If it only got you 20 miles, you only pay a small amount. If it got you 400 miles, you pay a larger amount.

        If you paid by amps (or whatever the relevant unit of electricity is) instead of miles, it would further encourage you to drive in an efficient manner. Sounds like a win-win.

        Of course, the car is going to need an accurate way to gauge how far the battery can go, and service stations would probably
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Just Some Guy (3352)

      Who picks up the tab for a dead battery? The owner or the 'fuel' vendor?

      In Agassi's plan, the "vendor" owns the batteries. Whenever you "fill up" your car by swapping them out, you're basically renting the batteries for the duration.

    • by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:17AM (#27675027) Journal
      The battery replacement stations do diagnostics on the battery pack before it goes back out. If it looks bad, or has trouble charging, or doesn't hold a charge after recharging, it gets taken out of circulation.

      Plus, the battery packs are not the same as ordinary batteries. There are brains built into them to monitor health, balance cells, control charging and discharging, and generally prevent degradation in the first place.

      time will tell if your concern is borne out in practice, but I personally am not too concerned.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blind biker (1066130)

        Unfortunately, there is still no reliable method for assessing the state of a battery, only whether the battery is completely ruined. The various electronic circuits built into laptop batteries are, sadly, a testament to this. The only accurate methods for assessing the state of chemical batteries are still, sadly, destructive.

    • I suspect that mitigating this would, while definitely necessary, be a reasonably minor engineering matter(in the vast majority of cases).

      We already have years of experience with embedded charge electronics in batteries for laptops and other electronic widgets. They aren't perfect; but they are generally good enough. A battery can easily report its status, number of charge/discharges already performed, etc. The charge depot could easily enough use those data to avoid handing out defective batteries and p
    • I don't think this is insurmountable. Each battery gets a tamper-resistant monitor board with NVRAM to record its charge/discharge history. Substandard packs get taken out of circulation and refurbished. Monitor hacking gets dealt with as criminal fraud, just like odometer tampering or miscalibrated gas pumps.

      (Of course, those analogies are a bit fragile -- odometer readings are tracked with the full force of automotive title laws, and gas pumps are subject to regular state inspection, neither of which w

    • by SBrach (1073190) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:51AM (#27675375)
      With the Better Place system, you pay for the miles you drive, not the battery. Batteries are all owned by Better Place and the car tracks how many miles you drive on their battery. This way the capacity of the battery doesn't matter because you only pay for the amount of capacity that you use. It is the cell phone business model, give away the phone(car/battery) and charge for the minutes(miles).

      Better Place Business Model [betterplace.com]
    • by Rei (128717)

      Batteries degrade and can at times do so in strange ways. Say, for example, that someone has let a spare battery sit idle for some months, charges it up at home and, knowing it's rubbish now

      Morbo voice: "EV battery packs do not work that way!"

      Ever heard of the RAV4EV? They've been running on their original battery packs (there are no replacements) since the 90s. Most of them are still at above 80% capacity.

      EV battery packs are accelerated aging tested to ensure reliability under a wide range of condition

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by itsdapead (734413)

      When you buy a litre of petrol, it should take you a set distance.

      On what planet? It depends on how fast and well you drive, how powerful your engine is and what condition it is in...

      What you mean, is that a litre of standard petrol contains a known amount of usable chemical energy, whereas the yield of a fully charged battery will decline over time.

      battery changing services have a lot of questions in regards to reliability and liabilities if it is to work.

      You never actually own the battery - it belongs to the power company - you just pay a deposit when you pick up your first battery. Regular wear and tear on the battery is included in the fuel costs - mistreat it and you lose y

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This requires all batteries to have a standard size and compatible electrical properties. If we settle for a standard now, it will hamper development of better models that require changes that break the compatibility. Current technology appears to be unsuitable for widespread electric car use, so this is not the time where you want to slow down any improvements.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      I would imagine that the solution to that would be to go something like the SD, miniSD, microSD route. The power requirements are likely to remain largely the same, but with future technologies we will be able to either reduce the size or increase the capacity. When this happens, cars that want to go with the reduced size option will start using smaller battery packs and larger cars will use the same ones with an adaptor (because the mass will be less, they will get greater range for the same amount of po
  • Propane Tank Model (Score:4, Insightful)

    by clinko (232501) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:03AM (#27674857) Homepage Journal

    This is similar to the Propane Tank business model.

    The BIG problem I see here is that with a propane tank, you always get the same amount of propane in return. I see potential for old batteries to float through the system, getting less charges.

    Now that I think about it, I bet this will be like buying "premium" gas.

    Premium = Batteries 2yrs old, etc. /rambling

    • good point - this does have to be taken into consideration.

      standard testing and rating of 'how old' the battery is would be useful. it would give consumers confidence. plus, its IS a safety issue, you need to know the batt you are driving with is GOING to make it that X amount of miles between swaps.

      otoh, if you got a 'bad' batt, the worst case is that you drive with it until you swap again.

      how do you deal with 'too frequent' a swapper, btw? can you swap these as many times as you want, even inside a day

      • by ivan256 (17499)

        otoh, if you got a 'bad' batt, the worst case is that you drive with it until you swap again.

        The worst case is that it falsely reports much greater capacity than it has, and you get stuck with no power a couple miles away from the swapping station.

    • by grumbel (592662)

      That is trivial to fix, you simply pay for the charge you used instead of the charge that the battery holds. These are after all not stupid batteries, they will have electronic in them that monitors what is going on with them.

  • by jeroen8 (1463273) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:05AM (#27674875)
    If electric car manufacturers standardize their battery pack on dimmensions and voltage output this will create huge benefits:
    • Swapping batteries either automatic or manual is easy
    • A new market will be created for companies providing improved batteries which can be used in any electric car
    • Cost down by mass producing the battery packs
    • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @12:11PM (#27675593) Homepage

      Manual? Are you serious? What are we, weightlifters?

      A lot of battery pack swapping proponents have no clue how big and heavy EV batteries are. Let me be specific: picture an internal combustion engine. Now double its dimensions and mass. Give it high voltage connections that must be firm to prevent arcing, and keep it securely in place so it doesn't shift around. Now go manually swap that.

      And no, a battery is not a battery is not a battery. Go try to shove a laptop battery pack in your flashlight or a AA in your car's engine or a lead-acid battery in your laptop. Different vehicle size, shape, weight distribution, price, performance, and technology profiles have different requirements of size, shape, chemistry, wiring, fuses, and series/parallel cell arrangements in an EV's battery pack.

  • it was my idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    not that its a hard-to-discover idea.

    after owning an electric scooter and being limited by the 15mi battery on it, it was OBVIOUS that a battery-swap station would make sense. people do that all the time, informally (the hard core ones do). they'll leave a battery pack (on scooters they are semi-sealed fabric covered 'modules') and charger at work and when they scoot to work, it sits there on charge ready for the return run home at the end of the day; but you also do have a spare batt in case you need it.

    • Re:it was my idea (Score:5, Informative)

      by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:19AM (#27675045)
      not that its a hard-to-discover idea.

      No indeed. It's called a staging-post. It's where a stagecoach would stop, and rather than waiting until the horses were fed and watered and well rested, they'd simply drop off the horses there and take fresh horses for the next stage of their journey.

  • Shai's plan for electric cars was featured in Wired [wired.com] last year. The idea only sounds crazy until you learn more about it, and then starts to take on the air of inevitability. It makes so much sense and is so practical (and profitable!) that someone is bound to do it. Israel and San Francisco signed on to the plan, anyway.

  • I've tried to compare this to:

    * The propane tank exchanges used often by BBQ owners. The used/empty propane tank is exchanged for one that has a "full charge" and is fully functional. The tank itself might not be new (scratches, rust, paint chips etc..) but it holds a full charge of propane. Sometimes if you get a tank that is "nice and shiny" you can find places that only refill and don't swap.

    * Laptop batteries. I couldn't imagine randomly swapping my laptop battery with another persons. As I c

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maxume (22995)

      Serialize the batteries (with strong RFID or something). Make the history of the battery publicly available.

      It won't absolutely prevent fraud, but if you go to a reputable power station, they will be able to rent (or whatever you want to call it) you a battery that does what it says on the label. There could even be a battery quality charge (or rebate) included on the energy bill (depending on how much worse or better the replacement is).

      I guess the point is that it doesn't have to be a random replacement.

    • I have a feeling we're going to see this objection a lot today (I've read it three times today and the story is still young), which is weird because the answer is as obvious as it is simple:

      When you swap in your battery, its condition and the condition of the battery you are accepting affect how much you pay. The battery-swap station sets a minimum level of 'charge' for batteries it uses and we're all set.

      Guess what? Swap a shitty battery for a shiny-new battery and you'll be charged more. Trade yo
      • You can't 'keep your battery in top condition' because it is not your battery, it is one that you rent for a single discharge cycle and then return for recharging. There is no reason for stations not to continue to use older batteries, however. If you are just driving around town then you may only drive a few miles a day and so getting a battery that only lasts for 100 miles instead of 300 may be better if it costs less per mile. You would have to swap it again sooner, but that's not a problem is the swa
        • Sorry I wasn't clearer. What I meant was that you'll keep the battery you are currently using in as good as condition as possible to maximize its value when you swap it for your next battery at the recharge station. You won't spill acid on it, or get it wet, or paint it, or bash it with a hammer, or let it discharge and forget to return it for 6 months, or whatever else might decrease its value.
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      You can reasonably accurately measure the health and capacity of the battery. Presumably the recharging stations would do this, would give you the option of purchasing limited-charge batteries, and would charge you less for them.

  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:09AM (#27674941) Homepage
    As someone who's been riding an electric moped for the last few years, I know quite well that electric batteries decrease in capacity over time. This sounds like a great way to use the hell out of my batteries, and then swap them for a brand new set.

    The next item is battery theft. You might laugh and say they're too bulky, but battery theft has become a serious problem here. The race between locks and thieves was altered by the presence of a widely adopted new design, so thieves just started pulling batteries out of electric bikes and taking those instead (about a third of the bike's cost to replace). Now, there's a new cage add-on thing that you can buy to enclose your battery in a protective shell. Crazy. Point is, I've been riding around on the same battery for a while, it's time to change, and I wish there was a replacement depot I could dump my old battery on and get a fresh new one for free.

    • If you own the battery swapping is unworkable for the reasons you state. As most people would quickly realize this and swap their old dead batteries near end of life.

      You have to have leased batteries for this to make sense. But then leasing costs for the battery would end up being more than Gas and remind people how uneconomical BEVs really are.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Just Some Guy (3352)

        You have to have leased batteries for this to make sense. But then leasing costs for the battery would end up being more than Gas and remind people how uneconomical BEVs really are.

        That's the plan: to lease the batteries. They contend that they can sell you power cheaper per mile driven than you can buy gasoline, and they're probably right. Among other things, consider that they can charge the batteries at night when electric demand (and costs) are lower, and potentially sell back excess during peak times. The charging plant could very likely be a profit center even if they never rented a single battery to end users.

        • by guidryp (702488)

          You are again neglecting the economics of battery life. You can't use batteries to demand shift and make money.

          For Example:

          16KWh packs costs ~$16000
          Lasts 1000 cycles.
          You can save what by demand shifting? 5 cents/KWh?

          So you can save .05*16kwh*1000 cycles = $800
          That isn't an $800 profit. It's a $15200 loss.
          You just burned out a $16000 battery to do it.

          Now in a car, You get what with that 16K battery? 50 Miles?

          How much does it cost to 50 miles. It costs the price for 16KWh of electricity ( ~$1.60) + 1 cycle lo

    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:22AM (#27675097) Homepage Journal

      This sounds like a great way to use the hell out of my batteries, and then swap them for a brand new set.

      Since you're only renting the batteries short-term in this plan, there's no financial reason for you to abuse them and then swap them out.

      The next item is battery theft.

      Who would a thief sell them to? The vendor who owns them? I can't imagine the electric company will pay top dollar to buy back its own property, as opposed to just siccing the cops on the thief dumb enough to try.

  • by JWSmythe (446288) * <jwsmythe@@@jwsmythe...com> on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:10AM (#27674951) Homepage Journal

        I was wondering when this would come up. I know way (way) back in the day when they were first almost seriously talking about electric cars, they seemed to indicate swapping the batteries.

        A battery swap makes a LOT more sense than recharging in the vehicle. Waiting for an hour or more for batteries to charge would really ruin a road trip, if you had to do it every 300 miles or so. Every 4 hours of drive time on wide open interstates would become 5 hours or more.

        Think of a cross country drive. 2500 miles between two places I've driven between a few times takes 41.6 hours, when average 60mph. I could usually average 60 by only stopping to buy fuel and go to the bathroom (same stop). Ya, even those stops really ruin your average speed. That would make it a 52 hour drive instead. I'd rather be at my destination for those 10 hours, rather than still driving. :)

        But, there would be other considerations. Does the battery swap location have sufficient batteries to handle peak demand? Like, on a holiday weekend, when everyone's driving electric cars, and they're all going out of town, a swap/recharge facility may be swamped, and not be able to have charged batteries fast enough.

        I worked in a warehouse for a while. The battery room not only recharged, but rebuilt the batteries as needed. All the heavy equipment in the warehouse used the same batteries (more or less). We had moments, particularly towards the end of the day, where equipment was being run hard, and they had simply run out of charged batteries. It was simple enough to move people over to doing things by hand if they couldn't use the heavy equipment. In the case of a car, towards the end of a busy day, customers aren't going to be satisfied with "Sorry, we're out of charged batteries. They'll be ready in 2 hours, but we close in an hour. Come back tomorrow, or plug in for the next few hours and charge it yourself."

        They will also have attrition to contend with. As batteries fail, they will be pulled out of service. This is a good thing as far as the car owners are concerned. We have the same situation with propane tanks right now. They have a life, where they must be reinspected before use again. There are plenty of places that take your empty tank, and hand you a full one. I've been BBQing for many years with propane, and never had to buy a "new" tank. I have been refused a full tank because they didn't have any though. It's not pleasant to hear that I can't BBQ when friends are already coming over, because I can't get a full tank. Luckily, I've always been able to find another location with available full tanks. It gets tight on holiday weekends though.

    • But, there would be other considerations. Does the battery swap location have sufficient batteries to handle peak demand? Like, on a holiday weekend, when everyone's driving electric cars, and they're all going out of town, a swap/recharge facility may be swamped, and not be able to have charged batteries fast enough.

      How do gas stations make sure they have enough gas to handle peak demand? Is there a real reason why having enough batteries on hand should be so much more difficult? In one sense, it seems like it could be easier. They have to continually transport gas to each station, but a battery station would only really require the transport of electricity to charge the batteries onsite (barring defective/damaged batteries that need to be replaced).

  • RTG's, baby... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BobMcD (601576) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:12AM (#27674975)

    Someone needs to shoot this battery idea in the head.

    RTG is the only logical source of power for a tractor-trailer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator [wikipedia.org]

    You need A LOT more power per gram than batteries will EVER allow for if you intend to start replacing infrastructure.

    People KNOW this. Why, then are they pushing us towards failure? What's in it for them??

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      RTGs are not really feasible for mobile use. The amount of shielding required makes their mass far too great. Betavoltaics might be an option, but you'd still need to generate tritium, or some other beta emitter that doesn't produce gamma radiation as it decays to be able to use them without massive shielding. That said, installing RTGs encased in concrete under houses seems like a sensible thing to do and a very good use of some of that dangerous radioactive waste I keep hearing that we have so much of.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sockatume (732728)
      An RTG? A technology which even now can give you maybe a few horsepower of raw heat per hundred pounds of RTG weight when made, which has a fuel cost of thousands of dollars per gram, for which power declines geometrically with capacity and which has sky-high waste disposal costs? Will you suggest burning gold-plated babies next?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by swillden (191260)

      RTG is the only logical source of power for a tractor-trailer.

      Very true, if you want a tractor-trailer with a maximum speed of a few feet per minute but runs decades without refueling.

      RTGs produce very little power for a given size/mass. Their advantage is that they can keep doing it for a long time.

  • The whole reason all this battery replacement talk is happening is that people are comparing electric cars to gas cars. And guess what, they are not the same. Electric cars won't work for everyone. If you want to drive cross country, they aren't a good option. Eventually they will get higher capacity and faster charging times. But electric cars are not there yet.

    Many people argue that electric cars won't work because they sometimes take far trips in their cars. I would argue that electric cars migh
    • by russotto (537200)

      Many people argue that electric cars won't work because they sometimes take far trips in their cars. I would argue that electric cars might work for 95% of many peoples actual car use, and that renting a gasoline car for the occasional trip makes a lot more sense than trying to extend range of electric cars. People want cars to work for any possible need, hence people commuting in Chevy Tahoes. That mentality isn't practical.

      That mentality IS practical. If the electric car works for 95% of my needs but th

  • Great Plan! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rickb928 (945187) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:33AM (#27675187) Homepage Journal

    Just remember to get the automakers to buy in and actually *use* standardized batteries and mountings.

    Good luck with that. I don't see many advantages to Toyota adapting their designs to whatever Ford chooses.

    I don't see car makers actually choosing even very limited (2-3) types of battery/mounting combinations. There are more variables in vehicle design than that, and it's unlikely that you can accomodate the same configuration in a next-gen Prius that you do in an electric Escape that you do in an electric Civic.

    Of course, we could all drive cars very similar in size, layout, and rear-end shape. Sure. that's the solution, make us all drive the same car. I'm sure whatever they have in mind will let me drag home a few bales of organic mulch, or a new big-screen TV, or that new sofa I've been just creaming over at the store.

    Nope, not likely. Nice idea, and if it serves 50% of vehicles out there, it might be worth it. Just don't think it will be the one-size-fits-all fix. I wish him the best of luck, and hope he can make it work for half of us.

    • That is why these types of systems will be driven by the Service Station companies. working with the automakers. One can not do it without the other. As far as what incentive the Service Station companies have to install this system, ultimately it will have to be profit.

      The oil companies expect to be here for the indefinite future and they realize, better than most, that they have a rapidly depleting product. If there is anyone that has an incentive to be part of, "the next big thing," it is them.

      So, the Se

  • What I like about this idea is that the company operating the battery replacement station gets to deal with any issues about battery life, defective batteries, improvements in battery technology, etc.

    A Prius battery may be guaranteed to last ten years, but it's still around $3,000 to replace one, and pure-electric cars will need much higher capacities and presumably cost more. Batteries may be reliable on the average but it could be a major bummer if the premature failure happens to you.

    This way, the statio

  • by jockeys (753885) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @11:39AM (#27675245) Journal
    technical rant section:
    1. batteries in general are a poor solution because of several things:
    a. poor energy density compared to chemical energy
    b. battery production is inherently filthy, and quite bad for the environment on its own
    c. charge times are awful. people like the model of gas. several hours to deplete the energy, but you can replenish it at a filling station in under 5 minutes, assuming you don't have a semi or something.
    d. even the best batteries are quite heavy, and thus make the car less efficient.

    happily, there is a very good solution. ultracapacitors, sometimes known as ultracaps. they hold more than batteries, weigh an order of magnitude less (sometimes 2 orders) and can be charged, quite literally, in seconds. (not with plugs at your house... you'd have to go to a filling station that can generate a LOT of current to recharge this fast. you could still trickle charge at home in the evening, but for a quick fillup, you'd need a power station). ultracaps are not dirtier to make than LiON batteries. ultracaps have good staying power, last virtually forever (no practical limit on charge cycles) and hold much more than a battery of similar size, and orders of magnitude more than a battery of the same weight.
    • by serbanp (139486) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @01:19PM (#27676475)

      happily, there is a very good solution. ultracapacitors, sometimes known as ultracaps. they hold more than batteries, weigh an order of magnitude less (sometimes 2 orders)

      That's pure, unadulterated BS!

      The best ultracaps have less than 10% of the energy density of a rechargeable battery: 30Wh/kg as compared to 300Wh/kg for LiIon and 370Wh/kg for zinc-air. To put things in perspective, the gasoline energy density is 12500Wh/kg, 30 times better than the best commercially available batteries...

      Ultracapacitors cannot even begin to compete with batteries as the primary energy storage, their role is limited to storing regenerated energy (e.g. from braking).

    • by jockeys (753885) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @02:25PM (#27677181) Journal
      full disclosure: to clarify, i was going by the figures in the wikipedia EEStor article, if they are erroneous then some of my points lose validity.
  • I see how hard it is to get E85 (require a fourth fluid system in gas stations) and hydrogen stations off the ground. There are only handfuls of either in the USA. Battery replacements face a similar financial and consumer hurdle.

    If stations are so rare, then so will be the vehicles. How do you break the logjam?
  • With fast charging batteries this will be obsolete before it is deployed.

    Say we consider 10 minutes an acceptable charge time.

    The Tesla roadster fully charged is about 53 kWh, assuming we use a fast charging battery pack
    with this capacity in total ( such batteries already exist ) from flat we need to deliver 190.8 Mj in 10 minutes

    10 minutes is 600 seconds, so the necessary power is 318 kW

    Batteries will likely be able to handle this power since the better models have an efficiency exceeding 99.8%. I.e the he

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CompMD (522020)

      "The required current is then 318 Ampere."

      Most houses in the US have electrical service of 200A or less.

  • This plan fails as you are going to have a hard time knowing that the battery you get is going to be as good as the one you gave. It will be little comfort that you get a free replacement when you are stranded 20 miles from nowhere. Even if this only happened one time would you ever do it again? Nope. Also, it has been shown over and over that if given the choice, Customers will pick the option where they own the product.
  • zinc-air (Score:3, Insightful)

    by serbanp (139486) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @01:01PM (#27676239)

    That's where the future lies, not H2 and not LiIon. "Recharging" involves removing the spent anode and inserting a fresh array of zinc rods and can be done fast. The salt can then be processed off-site to retrieve the zinc metal, usually by electrolysis (that's the true recharging step).

    It's a proven technology,already powering mass transit and postal systems in US, Europe and Singapore, it's cheap, has good power density while still having room for improvement, what's not to like about it?

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