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Better Place Joins Japan Ministry of Environment EV Project; First Demo of Battery Exchange Mechanism

Better Place is joining Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subaru automobiles, and other Japanese carmakers in the first Ministry of Environment sponsored electric-vehicle (EV) project in Japan. Better Place, the only foreign company participating, was invited by the Japanese Ministry of Environment to build a battery exchange station for EVs and showcase the technology.

The government’s project supports the move to sustainable transportation and includes various electric-car models and EV infrastructure in multiple cities to demonstrate feasibility. The EV project is scheduled to begin in January 2009 and last three to six months, encompassing municipalities in Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka, and Hyogo prefectures.

Yokohama will host the first location to demonstrate the ability to exchange a depleted EV battery for a fully charged one, a means of extending EV range under the Better Place model. (Earlier post.)

Better Place is honored to participate in this ground-breaking program in a country with so much auto-manufacturing expertise and history. We look forward to joining Subaru and other auto manufacturers in the project and demonstrating the feasibility of electric cars with swappable batteries to the rest of the industry. Japan is moving one step closer to the next-generation Car 2.0 model of electric cars fueled by renewable energy.

—Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO of Better Place

Founded in October 2007 with $200 million in venture funding, Better Place builds electric vehicle networks powered by renewable energy. The company is currently working with partners to build electric vehicle infrastructure in Israel, Denmark, Australia and the United States.

Better Place is partnering with the Renault-Nissan Alliance for electric vehicles for some of its other projects.

Better Place Japan will be led by Kiyotaka Fujii, the former president and CEO of retailer Louis Vuitton’s Japanese subsidiary and SAP Japan. Based in Tokyo, Fujii also will lead the company’s efforts in the Asia Pacific region.

Yesterday, Better Place Israel introduced its first “plugged-in” parking lots as well as the charging spot design that will be used in Better Place deployments around the world. (Earlier post.)

Comments

Henrik

I am a bit skeptical about the idea about swappable batteries because it forces you to drive a short-rage EV that will be no good when you leave the area that is supported by swapping stations.

However, what if you changed the concept a bit? Offer a short-range EV with a 30kWh fixed battery and a 100 miles range and make sure that vehicle has the ability to swap in either another 30kWh of battery to make it a 200 miles EV or alternatively to swap in a gasoline range extender to make it a range extended EV with a 70 miles all EV range or so. Also design it so that when the vehicle is run in its basis configuration with no extra battery or gasoline range extender the empty space can be used for luggage.

That would make me believe in the swapping concept because you could sell people a vehicle that could do it all and that does not cost more to produce in its basis short-range EV configuration than a traditional gasoline vehicle.

Please criticize this idea. I have not discovered any flaws in this concept yet so maybe I need help.

Roger Pham

@Henrik,
I concur with you that swapping for an ICE range extender would be better than swapping out for another battery. The battery on board should be enough for 60-100-mile range. After this is almost depleted, an ICE genset can be placed after the battery is removed. This will give a BEV convenient cross-country all-day driving capability without battery swapping every 60-100 miles.

Furthermore, batteries are still very expensive and limited in availability, so just having ONE battery pack per BEV would be severely straining production capability...where would one find more packs for battery swapping? HEV's will make better use of limited battery supply, at the moment.

JasGardiner

How about swapping out a metal-air battery range extender instead. Assume the rechargeable is on a continuous trickle charge from the range extender. Let's say the range extender lasts several hundred miles. -> Zero emissions, no exhaust or generator. Maybe even ditch the Li-ion and use a cheaper, longer-lasting battery pack.

ai_vin

Better Place is spreading, we may just end up with its technology being the de facto standard.

Lad

Those of us who are used to the 300 to 400 mile range of the ICE will need to adapt to the shorter range of the current BEVs. The swapping stations are an answer to extending the range without adding additional weight. Swaps are expected to take less than five minutes and will be accomplished by a special robot.

As the BEV technology matures,i.e., batteries increase in energy density, chassis get lighter and more aerodynamic, motors and suspensions components are relocated in the wheels, etc., the ranges are expected to increase along with fast charging battery stations. Perhaps leading to the day that pure BEVs break 300 miles.

The idea behind "Better Place" is to get the technology on the street and into mass use. You must decide when to enter the market. If you want trouble-free long-range BEV use, you may need to wait for awhile.

sulleny

"Better Place is spreading, we may just end up with its technology being the de facto standard."

Knowing the poster, this remark is made with tongue deeply inserted in a cheek. FYI see:

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2008/12/better-place-un.html

Aussie

The drivers who can put up with this clumsy arrangement should have taken the bus. I think the reaction to the charging points won't be as positive as hoped.

Outside of Japan people will want just one car that can go 500km on a tank with reasonable performance and a bolted-in long life battery that is charged at home. That has to be a PHEV with a multifuel internal combustion engine. Maybe cut some airbags and CD players and sell a basic model that low wage workers can afford.

JMartin

If I have to pay $20K or the equivalent lease, you bet I want a car that will go 300+ miles and haul the kids, dogs, and lumber from Home Depot. On the other hand, if I could get a $10K BEV that gets 30+ miles, I may be willing to adapt.

I really do not want to swap batteries every 30 or 40 miles. For that inconvenience, I can take a bus and save the total cost of the car.

Andrew

Is the range of an ICE vehicle an arbitary number? or is it a market requirement?

You could fit a 20 gallon tank on a car and give it a range of say 500 miles. Hardly anyone does that ... why? ... because it's not neccessary!

The size of the tank is a compromise, based on a multiplexity of needs in cities and countries all over the world. People learned to accept the current frequency of visits to gas stations. Gas stations have been sized and spaced out to match the demand. Changing the average size of the tank would actually pose a big problem to the gas station industry.

PHEV/BEV charging is a new paradigm. Try to get the old ideas and habits out of your heads.

You can charge a BEV at home or a charging point at any parking location. When battery car infrastructure develops (and it will). In most urban and dense population rural areas you will rarely get low on juice.

It takes about 20-30 days to develop a new habit. After 2 months plugging in at night or down at the grocers, it will not register as a chore. You will have forgotten about gas stations. Your lazy mind will find ways to make the process efficient. Habits will change.

For example: If you regularly drive 200 miles to go fishing on a Saturday. You will find youself stopping for breakfast midway to charge up and avoid using gas in your PHEV. Your life will change in subtle ways. It is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.

Even when only a fraction of the eventual electric infrastructure is developed. 110 miles range will not be a genuine issue for most of the driving population.

PBP are developing swap stations as one method to overcome the resistance to change of potential customers. It is an irrelevancy to the long term future of electric transportation.

Zardoz1

If even one PBP swap station opens and lasts more than six months - I'll be an alien's uncle!

Henry Gibson

ZEBRA batteries now give you as much range as you can afford and about the same range or more than most production Lithium batteries. You can easily get one km for one kg, so buy 400kg and get 250 miles and more. They will get cheaper if more are sold.

There is no reason to buy much range as it will not be used much of the time.

Two or more tiny engine range extenders can be designed to very efficiently cope with long range when it is needed. TZERO demonstrated the effective use of range extenders, but their reports seem no longer to be available since they are busy making drives for MINI-E.

Most of the advantages of hybrid drive cars are obtained without large batteries. If your battery covers your avarage daily trips, it is enough.
..HG..

JasGardiner

Realities please, without the wishful thinking. Here's a few:

You won't get 300 miles or even 250 miles from charging batteries because of basic chemistry and/or weight limitations. Every EV and battery maker hypes a possible 250 mile range then they climb down to the real limit of around 100 miles. Any increase above that is done by making cars very special (read costly) and being frugal. For a more sensible range you need to add fuel of some kind. Yet hybrids are neither one thing nor the other and are good at neither.

You won't ever get a plugin point at every parking spot or at every shop in town, most especially not a fast charger, which means very long queues at the few available ones or specially built charging parking lots - perhaps a dangerous idea.

Yes 100 miles a day is fine for most people, for most trips, but there are large classes of people who need to go more than 100 miles at some point during the week. Rather more than half the vehicles on the road are hauliers going on long trips anyway. Absolutely nobody will want to swap batteries or recharge every 100 miles on those longer trips.

Lithium is not abundant so any cost reduction from mass production will hit the scarcity buffers. Anyway, Li-ion batteries explode readily and degrade quickly. Zebra batteries run very hot, but yes they are still more sensible, but no you don't get 1km for every kilo; You get 100 miles.

Few people even consider the complex, yet necessary recycling of these highly toxic batteries.

So where does reality actually leave us? Fossil fuel or metal-air range extenders for the short-term as planned by Renault/Nissan and metal-air for the long-term as planned by Toyota. And if you are aiming for zero emissions, as Renault say they want, then the fossil fuel based range extenders ie IC engines, Stirling engines, solid oxide cells, methanol cells are all out.

sulleny

Good thing no sane person believes in range extended vehicles having zero emissions. Technically not feasible today. BUT today we have the 40 mile AER, from Chevy Volt with flex fuel range extender. Their 16kWh battery is warranted for 150,000 miles or ten years. The much smaller Misubishi iMiEV also uses the 16kWh battery for an 80 - 90 mile AER.

And of course there is a range extender option announced by GM's E-Flex group that includes an H2 FC. But any H2 solution is cost and infrastructure bound.

In any case charge points will be built to accommodate vehicle owners. If a business wants to tout their greenness and they have even one PHEV owner driving to work - they'll pony the $500 bucks needed for a 220V 50A outlet. They will then (if they're marginally intelligent) blow their green horn and reap civic kudos for helping make the world a better place - without Shai and his swapshop.

ai_vin

"Knowing the poster, this remark is made with tongue deeply inserted in a cheek."

You don't know me well enough to say that. My tongue was only lightly inserted into my cheek. ;^)

ai_vin

"Yes 100 miles a day is fine for most people, for most trips, but there are large classes of people who need to go more than 100 miles at some point during the week. Rather more than half the vehicles on the road are hauliers going on long trips anyway. Absolutely nobody will want to swap batteries or recharge every 100 miles on those longer trips."

For me an electric car with a 100km range would serve 99% of my needs, but there is still that trip I make each year on vacation. However on this trip I'm also pulling a trailer and if I had an electric car I could put a genset in the trailer, wire it into the car, and recharge the car on the go. Why should I carry an engine around in my elecric car 99% of the time when I only need it 1% of the time?

I can see putting battery swap depos on the highway between cities when the distances are short; like 200-300 miles. One or two 5min breaks on this kind of trip would not be all that great an inconvenience (not even for those unplanned trips) but if you're planning a longer trip why aren't you actually PLANNING for the trip? Plan stops for lunch etc. Maybe you could rent a genset trailer or rent a RV and tow your EV. (tongue ever so lightly inserted into cheek)

In a future filled with EVs new services will spring up[see genset trailer or RV tugs] like passenger train travel with car carriers added, or even E-guideways where your car is switched over to automatic and draws in power from a contact running along the guideway. (tongue now deeply inserted into cheek [but not all the way in] ;^)

JasGardiner

Sulleny
Check your facts - far from "not being technically feasible today", emission free extenders were successfully tested 20 years ago and the systems then had relatively poor cathodes compared to those available now. It was just another good idea killed by low oil prices.

But your grand plan for charging points ignores another reality check that while the grid might be ok for night time charges, it absolutely can't cope with many people charging their cars during the day. That's a lot of extra energy you're going to need.

As for the Chevy Volt - if that 10 year life is referring to A123's battery then you're out of date. GM pulled out of that deal and gave the contract to LG chem. But whether or not the A123 battery could stand up to it's maker's outrageous hype we'll see. I'll bet it won't and I suspect GM thought the same.

Note that Toyota also plan a plugin hybrid but they'll stick with NiMH because they say Li-ion is too dangerous.

sulleny

JasG:

Thanks for the update. Wasn't aware of an emission free serial hybrid twenty years ago. Could you provide more detail?

I suspect that over the next ten years we will have no problem recharging 70-90% PHEVs at night. If the 40 mi/day typical drive range proves correct (stat-wise it is) then errands and commutes for first gen owners will easily be handled by night-extra capacity. Remember the vast majority of charging will be trickle charge over 6-8 hour time frame.

The Volt battery is LG. The warranty remains as announced as far as I know. A123 is negotiating to supply heavy-duty Li-Ion batteries to Chrysler's four PHEV/HEV vehicles.

JasGardiner

Sulleny
Google "Alupower range extender" and you'll get some details from 1990 or so - even a picture of it in google books "history of the electric automobile" by Ernest Wakefield. A range of about 200 miles was produced instead of the 30 miles of lead acid. Note that was lead acid batteries in a heavy minivan. Since then all batteries (even lead-acid) have improved a lot. The range you can expect from metal-air really depends on how much metal you use - ie a weight compromise. With a less heavy van, less heavy prime mover batteries, newer air cathodes and more metal in the metal-air cells the overall range is much larger.

You might have got your info (ie not feasible yet) from Toyota's recent announcement that metal-air was the future but wasn't ready yet. However they meant zinc-air as a primary drive, where power density is probably still a bit lacking. However for range extenders only energy density is important and Zn-air and particularly Al-air have that in spades.

Charging at night is very sensible as it uses up the base load, which is usually wasted. It's like free energy. Daytime charging will cause lots of troubles.

You might believe that warranty for Li-ion batteries. But how long does your laptop or mobile or power tool battery last? These are the cutting edge applications for batteries and they give a life of about 2 years with continually reducing capability over that period. 10 years lifetime is press release hype. How can they prove that or anyone else disprove it?

Andrew

Nobody yet has the opportunity to drive around in EV's where there is actually a charging infrastructure in place.

The charging infrastructure is the paradigm changer. Some of the proponents of Hybrids over BEV's are only thinking about todays infrastructure. No harm in that as it is todays reality. But, that doesn't mean it will be tommorows reality.

In the long term I am a strong advocate of BEV's over hybrids. I'm realistic enought to see the prime opportunity today is limited to specific applications:

1) Urban runaround in US (2nd or 3rd family car)
2) Island "like" environments e.g. Hawaii, Singapore, Israel, Iceland etc
3) Dense population areas with committed infrastructure development e.g. London, Berlin, Oslo.

As the charging infrastructure develops, more and more markets will open up for emission free BEV's. In 5-10 years time BEV's will reach a tipping point and start to win out over hybrids.

I prefer to pass over the hybrid interim stage and realise the BEV end game sooner rather than later.

Teratech

There are many pros and cons to a swappable battery pack. In my mind the biggest hurdle to over come would be tha standardization of the size form factor, voltage levels and quick connect high current electrical connection. I believe the only way this idea will get off the ground is if the EV battery pack format is "Open Source". However, many people claim to be working on EV's with swappable battery packs, but nobody is sharing ideas on a standardized format. I would love to see the swappable battery pack become a reality, but until the manufactures start sharing information, it will not happen.

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