Can EV Battery Swapping Take Off In The U.S.?

Little robots are actually charging this electric car. They remove the depleted batteries and replace them with new fully charged ones. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. It’s called battery swapping. San Francisco-based Ample is bringing the idea to the U.S. The company was in stealth mode for seven years before launching recently with five swapping stations in the Bay Area. The concept is not new. Better Place launched an EV and battery swapping company in Israel, but the company went bankrupt in 2013, even though it had almost $1 billion in funding. And Tesla gave it a try in 2013. Took 90, sort of 90 seconds for a pack swap. So hopefully this is what convinces people finally that electric cars are the future. Battery swapping is already common in China. Electric Vehicle maker Nio plans to double its network of swapping stations to 500 this year, and plans to open battery swapping stations in Norway as part of its expansion into Europe.

Geely, another Chinese automaker plans to build 200 swapping stations in China by 2023. these swapping stations are expensive, and it’s unclear whether American car owners would be willing to swap out their EV battery. Batteries are usually then charged off site, but EV batteries are massive. And this is part of the reason why swapping stations have historically been so expensive. You have challenges there. If you’re connecting a 900 pound thing, then you have to have really robust electrical connectors that can handle a few 100 volts and have some dropped in and out dozens hundreds of times over the lifetime. But Ample is trying a new technique. It is building its own batteries designed in these Lego-like modules that charge right inside the battery swapping station. The main thing that sets Ample apart is that we have a modular battery. Modular batteries, we can take them out a few at a time and they’re very light, they’re very easy to maneuver, the station is the size of two parking spots, so it doesn’t require a lot of square footage since the batteries can be individually put on a much smaller rack to charge.

Part of thing about the modular batteries is largely the ability to fit into different sizes. If it’s a big car, you can put in more a small car has less. So it solves a lot more problems than we initially thought about by going through and doing it. We were not allowed to film the proprietary tech inside of the charging station, but we were able to take a peek.

The station is fully autonomous and the payment is done through the app. Ample’s Bay Area stations cost the driver about 10 cents per mile for a swap which is less than gas in the area, but a bit more than traditional charging. The car isn’t, you know, perfectly centered where it needs to be, the robots will move it to the right spot. So there’s it’s very easy for anyone to just drive up and park on the platform. Ample battery stations are designed to be installed quickly along high traffic routes. Former Tesla manager Lindsay Stone is in charge of deployment. One of the major benefits to ample swapping station is that it does require a lot less power than our traditional plug in charging station. This is because ample slowly charges the batteries and can control when they are charging. This also helps ensure the batteries are being charged with renewable sources, not fossil fuels. The benefits of swapping over fast charging or that you can charge when it makes sense for the grid. So when someone pulls up to charge, they need to pull that energy from maybe not always sustainable resources versus with swapping stations. Ample station could eventually also provide power to the grid. That stock of batteries that’s being charged, can actually also be used as stationary storage. When the utilities are hitting peak loads, there’s a known set of batteries that are going to be sitting there, they can draw off those batteries to help do some load balancing on the on the grid. But in order to use an Ample station for swapping, the car actually needs Ample’s batteries in it. It builds custom plates for each car manufacturer it works with and then fits the batteries into the plate. The plan is for the car buyer to choose whether they want Ample’s batteries in their car, or the manufacturers battery pack depending on their needs. Almost every automaker in the world, build the car separate than the battery, right so the battery is a device unit because they know this is probably the weakest part of the car will need to be replaced in service, etc.

But if you build a drop in replacement to that battery, then you don’t need a significant engineering effort from the automaker side. So the way we build our system is you build an adapter plate, which is defines how many modules you put in the car, how they’re distributed, how they interface with the car, so that the car itself doesn’t need to change the software or hardware in any way whatsoever. The company says it is already partnered with five EV manufacturers, but it would not disclose which ones. But while we were filming a Nissan LEAF pulled up to get a swap. Easy to kind of stole our system takes 15 minutes to get a car ready to be swappable. Most OEMs have very similar setups on their batteries, they have several main connectors. Straight from there, figure out what the packaging of battery modules can be within that geometry.

There’s not really any limit on that, right? We can do that for a van, we can do that for a truck. The global electric vehicle battery swapping market was valued at $100.1 million in 2020. And is projected to reach $852.6 million by 2030. But some are skeptical this will take off in the United States, It’s a 5050 you might get a newer fresher battery than the one you’ve already put 52,000 miles on, but you might get someone’s 52,000 mile battery swapped into your six week old car. In theory, they would have to keep them within some kind of range. But especially in America, we’d like to buy stuff, we like to own stuff, and that includes the battery. This could be why the company is initially focusing on fleets with sights set on individually owned EVs next. It’s a great option for a fleet that needs to have its cars on the road for as much of the day as possible. And where quick refueling is really vital to being able to have the fleet go electric in the first place.

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