Better Place Demonstrates Battery Switch Technology
13 May 2009
|Demo vehicle moving into position for battery switch. Click image to see demonstration video.|
Better Place officially opened the Yokohama, Japan EV exhibit with the public debut of its automated battery switch system, designed to make long distance travel by EV convenient for customers.
Better Place selected the Nissan Dualis to demonstrate the battery switch technology. This crossover utility vehicle is not necessarily indicative as to any potential EV lineup by Nissan. The technology demonstration used specially-built 400V battery packs with standard lithium-ion cells from A123Systems. The cells were inserted into an enclosure built to fit this specific Nissan Dualis vehicle application.
|Top view of a fully-charged battery moving up for insertion into the vehicle bay. Click to enlarge.|
The Better Place automated battery switch replaces a depleted EV battery with a fully charged one in just a few minutes, allowing consumers to drive their EVs on long distance trips without actually recharging en route. The technology, which includes the mechanisms for the switch and the control system, is part of an overall solution for EVs that includes an open network of charge spots deployed widely where cars park.
The switch technology was designed and developed by the Better Place Research and Development (R&D) organization, taking advantage of many proven technologies from the automotive and aerospace industries. Better Place is investing significant R&D funding in development of this technology as a core component of the company’s overall infrastructure for EVs.
The switch technology uses an automated track system that runs two robotic battery shuttles. One lowers the depleted battery from the vehicle using a simple hydraulic scissors lift, and then the other inserts the fully charged battery into the vehicle using another lift. The battery shuttles are designed to work with a wide variety of battery enclosure sizes and shapes for universal application to a range of EVs.
The lift platform doesn’t actually touch the car, said Better Place CEO Shai Agassi during the press conference. When releasing a battery, the car and battery separate themselves, and then, when inserting a new battery, the latching mechanism brings the car to the battery and the battery to the car. The battery does not need to be perfectly aligned with the vehicle bay at the beginning of the operation. During this insertion action, the electrical connection is established as well.
The latching mechanism has been tested to 25G, said Agassi.
|The battery pack, with vehicle connector. Click to enlarge.||The vehicle connector. Click to enlarge.|
The switch is controlled by three computers: one onboard the vehicle, one in the station, and one in the battery pack.
The switching process occurs while the driver remains in the vehicle, uses a number of integrated safety systems, and takes less than 80 seconds once the EV is in position.
Since the latching mechanism that secures the battery is based on a common principle used in the aerospace industry, the battery latches are original equipment manufacturer-grade for engineering quality, reliability and durability standards. The switch technology featured in the demonstration will be further developed into production for the commercial battery switch stations that Better Place intends to deploy in markets around the world.
Sharp Corp. provided the solar photovoltaic (PV) power system at the demonstration site in Yokohama. The system provides all the electric power needed to recharge the batteries used in the demonstration via the Better Place charge spots deployed at the site. The PV system helps demonstrate the role renewable energy plays as part of the Better Place solution.
The Yokohama exhibit is part of a six-month feasibility study by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment to increase the adoption of electric vehicles in Japan. Japan wants half of all new vehicles sold in Japan to be electric by 2020.
I can't imagine the different vehicle manufacturers agreeing a standard shape / size / weight / voltage and chemistry pack for use in battery swap stations.
Posted by: clett | 13 May 2009 at 03:53 AM
Another disadvantage seems to be that you can only recharge at a Better Place charge spot. I guess that is because, since you don't buy the battery, they have to earn money on the recharging.
The downside is that it reduces flexibility. You completely depend on their battery swap stations and charge spots.
Posted by: Arne | 13 May 2009 at 05:39 AM
Go to Better Place website. Both concerns (stocking of batteries and charge stations) have been addressed.
Posted by: Richard | 13 May 2009 at 06:07 AM
The idea about designing EVs so that their batteries can be swapped in a few minutes could facilitate inexpensive repairs of the battery or replacements of an old battery. The Tesla Model S is a good example where they design it with the ability to swap the battery so that it is easy and fast to upgrade or downgrade to larger or smaller battery packs with longer or shorter range. However, I am skeptical that battery swapping will ever be used for faster charging of batteries like PBP imagine it will. That sounds very expensive to me and it is probably also a redundant option when it should be possible to charge most coming EVs to 50% in less than 10 minutes.
Posted by: Account Deleted | 13 May 2009 at 06:38 AM
It was my understanding that the business model is contractual. You agree to buy the power from the company and they provide you with the vehicle and batteries for a fee.
Posted by: SJC | 13 May 2009 at 06:46 AM
A reliable/affordable EV battery exchange system is a breakthrough and would work with any battery that oil companies allow to be produced.
Posted by: kelly | 13 May 2009 at 06:56 AM
I notice that the Nissan in the clip is powered by A123 cells.
I wonder if this means Nissan are now evaluating A123 batteries in addition to their own?
Posted by: clett | 13 May 2009 at 07:22 AM
Maybe I'm just a jerk, but I want no part of a swap system. I have started taking my propane tanks to get refilled instead of swapping them out at the gas station. I got really tired of paying full price for tanks that were 3/4 full or tanks that looked like they had been to h*ll and back. Give me a range extender or generator or it's a no deal.
Posted by: JosephT | 13 May 2009 at 07:40 AM
That brings up a key marketing point. Do people want to own cars, or just have transportation? Personal transportation seems to be the idea, but owning a car is rooted in our culture.
Posted by: SJC | 13 May 2009 at 08:00 AM
PBP is an odd entity that seems to attract press, support, and resources, despite it just not being a very good idea, and not in the best interest of the consumer.
I am concerned that more than anything else, PBP is a CONTROL play, as the control of vehicles in a post-oil world will be much harder. Maybe the appeal of PBP to the powers-that-be is that it is a controllable infrastructure that is more easily regulated and taxed, versus, for example charging your own car at home with grid current or even your own wind/solar sources.
I don't mean to sound paranoid here, but something just doesn't make sense here.
Agreed that a one-size-fits-all battery pack also makes little sense in a market that seems to demand many sorts of vehicles.
Posted by: Jim | 13 May 2009 at 09:29 AM
Agree with Jim. Standardised battery packs make no sense at all. Standardisation at a much lower level, perhaps 1-5 kWh modules, yes. Exchange those by all means. Take half a dozen for a small car, a dozen for larger one and so on. Perhaps one day we will be able to do it. Thank you PBP, I am not interested.
Posted by: Laszlo | 13 May 2009 at 10:03 AM
I actually like the idea of leasing the batteries. Just because an old battery loses the capacity I need in an EV doesn't mean it's not still usable in some ofter application, so if someone wants to take it off my hands in a direct trade when I see fit, OK. It's the battery swap as SOP I see problems with.
As I understand it the battery swap would only be used for long highway trips. The car itself would have enough stored energy for your average daily trip and a fast charge capability for any surprize [but still local] trips.
That being the case I have a simpler idea that is already being used by EV owners - trailers. The only part of the car or trailer that needs to be standardized is the hitch, that makes the idea flexible. The switching *technology* would be no more complex than a parking lot; you just back up to the trailer you need. Any car could use any trailer and any technology could be used in the trailer - as appropriate. The only thing you the driver has to worry about is picking a trailer suitable to the needs of the trip.
Does the trip have hill climbing? Well a pusher trailer could give you more power- http://www.jstraubel.com/EVpusher/EVpusher2.htm
Going across country and you may be facing H2 in California, gasoline in Texas, E85 in the corn belt and SVO in NY? How about a multifuel genset?
Driving the hydrogen highway from LA to Vancouver? Try a fuel cell.
Just going from SanFan to Vegas? Well all you'll need is extra batteries.
Going out to the woods for the weekend? Rent a tent-trailer with a genset under the bed.
Can't find the right trailer in the lot because of too much oneway traffic that week? Maybe they will paid you to take one they need transporting to your destination.
Posted by: ai_vin | 13 May 2009 at 12:32 PM
Working with small individual batteries/cell, as some DIY project guys do is very dangerous. I see the Nissan form factor for "BP" sits at chassis level in the car along the center and in the back a bit and is self contained with safety connectors not exposed to humans. Because of the safety issues, standardization, is not an option. It will be necessary at least for building to particular company's models.
Posted by: Lad | 13 May 2009 at 12:32 PM
Better Place is trying a new business model. They are hoping that people comfortable with buying cell phone service by the minute, in monthly committment buckets, will try the same thing with transportation miles, and they are tacking on leasing the electric car to boot.
It does get around some people's fear of committing to a new technology, or fear of batteries dying early.
For urban commuters, it gets around concerns about not having any place to recharge at night for apartment dwellers. Better Place is only focusing on a few metros where they can blanket the region with swap-out places, to provide the coverage users need (like cellular service) and get an adequate utilization rate on these expensive recharging/swap-out stations.
For a city car, maybe it makes total sense. Dunno. I think, for a city car, recharging all night, each night, is probably cheaper...but this could work for Tel Aviv or Copenhagen.
Posted by: HealthyBreeze | 13 May 2009 at 12:54 PM
From the video, the 'standardized battery' seemed to be a plate latching to a car bottom with whatever size battery on top for flexibility. I didn't see the electrical connection/location.
Given the Arab/Israel history, how couldn't Better Place work there and spread? Don't forget a GERMAN Deutsch Bank financial evaluation found the BP business model is nearly half the cost of oil limited vehicles.
Posted by: kelly | 13 May 2009 at 02:34 PM
As always the best thing to do is stare at em and watch to see what goes horribly wrong and then proudly claim you knew that was going to happen all along. With something like this something is bound to go badly wrong.
Posted by: wintermane2000 | 13 May 2009 at 03:14 PM
"With something like this something is bound to go badly wrong."
Something like ANYTHING is bound to go badly wrong because no idea, no matter now good, is perfect. Everything has its own problems so all you can do is pick your poison and take the bad with the good.
Posted by: ai_vin | 13 May 2009 at 04:56 PM
International oil terrorists(religious or incorporated) and wars can be minimumized. Vehicle fuel(electricity) can locally, even renewably, produced. Power train part count(and proportionally, maintenance) can be reduced from thousands to a few moving parts - yeilds the response:
"With something like this something is bound to go badly wrong."?!?
Any other 'old wifes tales'?
'Green'/GCG isn't surrender and despair - it is innovation, sustainability, and even hope..
Posted by: kelly | 13 May 2009 at 07:26 PM
Instead of swapping the batteries, why not just swap the whole cars. A battery range of 100 miles is good enough for daily driving around town.
For extended range driving during a particular day, or out-of-town trip, it would be easier to charge your energy-depleted BEV at a Car-Swapping station while you pick up a gasoline car to complete your extended driving mission or out-of-town trip. When you get back, park the gasoline car and pick up your now-charged BEV to drive it home.
Mission Accomplished! and Look, Ma, No Battery Swapping!
Posted by: Roger Pham | 13 May 2009 at 11:17 PM
May 13, 2009 at 08:00 AM
Do people want to own cars, or just have transportation? Personal transportation seems to be the idea, but owning a car is rooted in our culture.
There are many people driving company cars. I do. I do not own my car, it is leased by my employer. I am generally regarded as a 'lucky bastard' for never having to pay for gas or servicing and the privilege of choosing a new car every 4 years.
If I could lease such a PBP car and there would be ample charge points/swap stations, that would certainly have been my next car instead of a Prius.
Would I still do it if an alternative (no swap, charge anywhere) was available? I don't know.
Posted by: Arne | 13 May 2009 at 11:41 PM
Darn, that typepad ate my formatting! The first sentence was a quote from SJC.
Posted by: Arne | 13 May 2009 at 11:49 PM
I think the problem with this is that a swappable battery will use up a lot of spacein the vehicle, like the whole boot (trunk).
So you will end up with a less useful car that you could have had if you were able to put the batteries in less accessable places, (and a higher centre of gravity).
On car swapping, the idea has merit, IF people keep their cars neat and tidy.
You could have a "swap and rent" model where you swap an electric car for an ICE, and they then rent your EV to someone else.
Or they just park it and charge (service) it (as suggested by Roger).
The swap and rent model is a better use of resources, the swap and park model would be easier to manage and have less chances of failure and complications.
With batteries in their current state, EV ownership will entail some kind of swapping - car or battery.
Also, leasing the battery sounds like a good idea - until the design and performance levels settle down.
Posted by: mahonj | 14 May 2009 at 12:30 AM
No automobile company wants you to know that a single piston engine that powers a generator in a hybrid car can keep the car going for hundreds of miles whilst charging the battery for the next hills. Swapping batteries is not necessary. But power companies should lease you the battery in a plug in hybrid car. ..HG..
Posted by: Henry Gibson | 14 May 2009 at 01:03 AM
>"With something like this something is bound to go >badly wrong."?!?
>Any other 'old wifes tales'?
Well you know there IS that problem of EVs being so quite that blind people who try to cross the street can't hear them coming.
That may sound like an insensitive joke but I actually have heard this arguement used.
Posted by: ai_vin | 14 May 2009 at 01:04 AM
Well you know there IS that problem of EVs being so quite that blind people who try to cross the street can't hear them coming.
If I were blind, I wouldn't trust my ears when crossing a street. I think I would rather trust my dog's eyes. Even in today's (noisy) world.
I actually have heard this arguement used
Did you actually check it? You can read any argument on the Internet. Bad arguments are not worth repeating.
Are you sure there IS a problem?
Posted by: Arne | 14 May 2009 at 01:45 AM