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Developing Battery Replacement Infrastructure For Electric Cars

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the not-free-of-charge dept.

Power 369

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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369 comments

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Dick "High Crimes and Midemeanors" Chaney (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27674763)

I should have been impeached for disgracing my office and my country in a massive 8 year crime spree.

I'm ignoring the fact that I totally ruined American credibility and turned our foreign policy into a self-destructive joke.

Instead, I'm throwing stones at Barack Obama, who is cleaning up my mess.

I'm a dick, and I left the White House in a wheel chair because I threw out my back lifting a box of karma.

Re:Dick "High Crimes and Midemeanors" Chaney (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27675125)

Linux just isn't ready for the desktop yet. It may be ready for the web servers that you nerds use to distribute your TRON fanzines and personal Dungeons and Dragons web-sights across the world wide web, but the average computer user isn't going to spend months learning how to use a CLI and then hours compiling packages so that they can get a workable graphic interface to check their mail with, especially not when they already have a Windows machine that does its job perfectly well and is backed by a major corporation, as opposed to Linux which is only supported by a few unemployed nerds living in their mother's basement somewhere. The last thing I want is a level 5 dwarf (haha) providing me my OS.

Why bother? (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674765)

Swappable batteries will stop being cool as soon as the iCar comes out, anyway.

Re:Why bother? (2, Interesting)

master5o1 (1068594) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674785)

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? (3, Informative)

Fortunato_NC (736786) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675099)

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.

Re:Why bother? (1)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675247)

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? (3, Interesting)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Why bother? (5, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675147)

iCar? I suppose it will have some sort of circular gizmo to control which direction you want to go.

Re:Why bother? (5, Funny)

Sabathius (566108) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675361)

iCar? I suppose it will have some sort of circular gizmo to control which direction you want to go.

It may also have a shuffle feature that takes you to random destinations.

Interesting... (4, Insightful)

bbowers (596225) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674779)

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... (1)

Web101Dev (1538701) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674823)

I'm one to keep a car till it falls apart - Drive it til it dies.

Re:Interesting... (1)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674851)

I get attached to my cars too.

Re:Interesting... (5, Informative)

sampson7 (536545) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Interesting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27675051)

I believe I read that the issue is a real engineering issue, but was solved by not fully charging or discharging the battery.

Not reported != not happening (3, Interesting)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not reported != not happening (5, Interesting)

wbo (1172247) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:Not reported != not happening (0)

Terminaldogma (765487) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675319)

they told her they'd replaced the battery and weren't charging her anything for it

Which Battery? It's my understanding that Hybrids still have a traditional 12 volt battery for the car's regular electrical systems. When I was looking at getting a Hybrid a few years back (ultimately did not end up getting one) I, like the grandparent, was unable to find any actual battery replacement stories (sans one story about a car that had a bad cell in it's pack).

Re:Not reported != not happening (2, Informative)

sampson7 (536545) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675335)

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.

Re:Not reported != not happening (1)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675351)

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.

Re:Not reported != not happening (0)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675383)

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

Weasel? Seriously? From the situation you described it sounds like Toyota is being proactive and fixing problems before they affect the customer. If that counts for "weasel," then sign me up for betrayer, blabbermouth, canary, deceiver, double-crosser, fink, informant, informer, narc, nark, rat, sneak, snitch, snitcher, source, squealer, stool pigeon, stoolie, tattler, tattletale, tipster, turncoat and whistle-blower.

Re:Not reported != not happening (0)

CBM (51233) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675391)

It's quite possible they replaced the small auxiliary battery and not the main hybrid battery. It's similar to a regular car battery, and has a similar lifetime. Completely separate from the main hybrid battery.

Re:Interesting... (5, Informative)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#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... (0, Redundant)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675205)

The number of taxi-miles is an irrelevant metric. 300,000 taxis each driving for one mile wouldn't tell you anything useful about the service life of the batteries. The question is about the wear-out phase of the battery lifecycle, not the constant failure rate phase.

Re:Interesting... (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675289)

Did you read the links? Individual taxis drove 100,000, 200,000 and even 250,000 miles individually, with no reported battery issues. Not to mention that even the post you replied to didn't talk about fleet-miles.

Re:Interesting... (4, Insightful)

allawalla (1030240) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Interesting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27675041)

It is your problem if that old tank is the one that you get on your next exchange. At least that bad tank for the grill isn't going to leave you stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere at 2 am.

Re:Interesting... (2, Insightful)

geordie_loz (624942) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675309)

No, it's just going to leave you all over the road and middle of nowhere when it explodes.

Re:Interesting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27675253)

Until they EXPLODE!

Re:Interesting... (1)

sricetx (806767) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675377)

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).

Re:Interesting... (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675357)

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.

Will this work with the Apple iCar? (3, Funny)

flipper9 (109877) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Will this work with the Apple iCar? (4, Funny)

dov_0 (1438253) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Will this work with the Apple iCar? (1)

jebrew (1101907) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675295)

Yeah, but following the directions on how to reassemble my Battery manager for the gCar led to me accidentally reformatting my hood...wait...what?

Makes Sense (2, Insightful)

Hasney (980180) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674813)

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.

Re:Makes Sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27675181)

Thanks for explaining the swapping schema to me, I imagined that somehow people would own both sets of batteries, and had no idea how they'd ensure the customer gets THEIR battery.

I'm still doubtful, though - many people will get attached to THEIR batteries. It may be that they feel they have a "good" battery (a new one, or one which is just quality by chance), or fear of getting someone else's dud, or they bought an aftermarket battery, or even just sentimentality.

Future benefits (1)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674825)

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 capacitors - which is similar in concept.

Read David Mackay's Without Hot Air [withouthotair.com] for more clear thinking.

Re:Future benefits (2, Interesting)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675049)

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 (3, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675281)

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.

Standard values not applicable here. (5, Insightful)

dov_0 (1438253) | more than 5 years ago | (#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?

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (1)

smolloy (1250188) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674939)

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?

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (5, Informative)

dov_0 (1438253) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:Standard values not applicable here. (2, Interesting)

robot_love (1089921) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675005)

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 have a minimum mileage requirement for any battery they offered, but charging after instead of before would solve the "I got a lousy battery" problem.

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (1)

Gimble (21199) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675009)

Or the battery could have condition monitoring built-in.

I don't see how an exchangeable battery could be safe without it.

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (2, Informative)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675023)

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.

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (4, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675027)

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:Standard values not applicable here. (1)

kndyer (521626) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675031)

I think you missed the point. You don't own the battery, your power-provider does.
It becomes their problem to ensure that spent batteries are appropriately down-cycled from the system ... and that is what makes this idea beautiful.

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675055)

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 prevent people from using them as a super-cheap battery replacement service(either hand out "like condition" batteries, or charge/credit for the difference in remaining lifespan).

Tampering could potentially be an issue, if the economic incentive is there(though I suspect that the anti-tampering features on a battery that can put out a fair few watts at over 200 volts are probably given a fair bit of thought already). If it became a big issue, you could always take ID or deposits with batteries, to discourage leaving fakes.

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27675073)

Google "bad gasoline"...

The charge/swap station will need to check the status of the battery. Even your laptop pack knows how many watt-hours it had on its last full discharge.

Lease the battery and own the car, rather than owning both sounds best to me.

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (1)

Al Dimond (792444) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675183)

Perhaps a trading system for hydrogen fuel cells would work better. I think we're not nearly as close to making fuel cell technology affordable, but, for the reasons you describe, battery-powered electrics wouldn't work very well for occasional drivers like me. I could very easily do exactly what you describe, get a battery replaced, not drive for a month, and then the battery would be ruined. Not only would the energy used to charge the battery be wasted, but also the energy used (and toxic pollution generated) to build the battery. Not very environmentally friendly.

Then again, car ownership generally really doesn't work out for people that drive as little as I do. I pay the same per year in insurance as someone that drives 50 miles to work every day. It's really pretty rare for me to require a car in the city, although sometimes it gives me extra flexibility (the ability to visit family/friends too far away to bike to on a whim). In a world where battery-electric cars win out, hopefully car-share services would truly succeed in cities (there are a couple where I live, but they only yet serve the rich parts of the city... and I understand why they're starting out there, but they'll really have to serve everywhere to make an impact).

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (1)

anjin-san 3 (983912) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675209)

How about instead of having one big battery, you have two smaller batteries. That way if there is a problem with one, you still have the other half of your charge fully functional. That SHOULD be enough to get you to the next swap station.

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675217)

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 would scale well to a hundred million battery packs being swapped weekly or daily.)

Re:Standard values not applicable here. (3, Informative)

SBrach (1073190) | more than 5 years ago | (#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]

Standardization problem (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27674847)

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:Standardization problem (2, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675349)

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 power), or will use larger ones based on the newer technology for even greater range. This will then repeat again a few years down the line until the batteries are so small that no one cares and making them smaller is no longer interesting.

Propane Tank Model (3, Insightful)

clinko (232501) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674857)

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

Re:Propane Tank Model (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675007)

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?

how does the wear/tear on the swap mechanism (in the car) deal with 10x the swap use/abuse? it HAS to be overdesigned at least at first. you cannot afford problems when you spring new ideas and tech on the people.

this could be worked out, though. but these details DO need to be well defined.

Re:Propane Tank Model (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675203)

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.

Standardize battery pack (5, Insightful)

jeroen8 (1463273) | more than 5 years ago | (#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

hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27674881)

bit slow, don't you think?

Re:hmm... (1)

sampson7 (536545) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674921)

Fourty-five seconds? Slow? When was the last time you filled your car up with gas?

Re:hmm... (1)

at_slashdot (674436) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675081)

Maybe he's a Nascar driver...

it was my idea (1, Interesting)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674897)

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. the idea of battery-swap locations just is obvious to anyone who has owned a limited-range electric vehicle.

hats off to the guys in the company working on this. I'd join their company if I could - I believe in this concept *that* much. too bad there is so much resistance (no pun intended) in the US toward alternative non-oil solutions. if we opened our mind and stopped keeping Big Oil on top and in power, we'd have this trivial (it is!) problem solved by now. its mostly not a tech problem, truth be told; but more of an acceptance toward the mind-shift of a swappable resource instead of an 'owned' one.

we're slowly getting there, though; you can go to many supermarkets and swap your empty propane gas tank for a full one. we just need a 'heats and minds' campain to make this a US goal to convert to x% of battery-swap use by a certain date.

think of how this would scare the pants off the arabs (lol) if we showed INITIATIVE to get off their crack^Woil habit. we'd FINALLY have a true scary bargaining chip that they simply won't be able to ignore. money talks and if we can cut off our *need* for mid-east oil, that would finally tip the balance of power away from the oil rich middle east nations. stripped of their oil power, they have NOTHING to threaten the world with. they become powerless and financially stripped.

its a great dream. can it be real?

Re:it was my idea (4, Informative)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:it was my idea (1)

Coan_teen (941463) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675273)

I'm just curious where you think the electricity comes from that you use to charge your scooter. Somewhere down the line, traditional fuel is being used.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (1)

FathomIT (464334) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674915)

In most regards it is THE solution to our CURRENT rapid charge systems. Here is the (evil) part of this battery swap equation: it may somewhat stifle rapid charge development. What does this mean? It means we now have to now rely on the company that sells you the battery. A battery that is now standardized and must be instantly removable and that has a fixed input system.

Rapid Charge development provides you the customer to choose your electrical source. You may choose municipal energy (like Pepco here in DC), the company that sells a rapid charge, or your choice if you choose to fuel it from your personally generated source such as solar, wind, etc. That is why rapid charge as a fuel distribution method of is by far superior to a standardized and source weakened swap distribution system.

Tesla motors a very small barely known company was recently able to develop a 45 minute rapid charge battery system. Instead of two steps forward and one back, lets take three steps forward. Our nation can spur development and make this benchmark come down to 5 or even 1 minute rapid charge and offer ubiquitous fueling source distribution if we put our minds and money to it.

Re:Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (1)

Ulmeco (154825) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675315)

According to another Slashdot article from last month, a professor at MIT has already managed to make a battery that charges and discharges in 10 seconds:
http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/03/11/2222216 [slashdot.org]

Which of course means the battery swapping infrastructure in this article isn't needed at all.

Re:Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675389)

A good part of the cost of setting up a charging station will be bringing in sufficient electrical supply. Once that is done, station owners won't turn away business just to save money on a fast charger (really, I would think that fast chargers will be more common for quite a while, they, at least superficially, seem to involve much less capital investment).

Either way, it is going to be a long time before either really adds much to overnight home charging (because there needs to be a station on each and every leg of a longer route).

It's going to happen (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674927)

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.

Used batteries? (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674931)

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 could be swapping a brand new battery, that currently is discharged, for one that has had many many cycles and won't hold a charge as long. Even my Li-Ion battery in my laptop isn't as good as it used to be after 3 years. If I have to swap and can't quickly charge it (15minutes?), then I could end up with a battery that is junk.

Re:Used batteries? (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675079)

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.

Re:Used batteries? (1)

robot_love (1089921) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675107)

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 your shiny-new battery for a shitty one, and you'll be charged less. This has the added benefit in that you'll try and keep the battery in top condition, because you want to maximize its value when you swap it for your next one.

Re:Used batteries? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675373)

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 swapping station is on your way to wherever you are going.

Re:Used batteries? (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675211)

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.

free battery replacement (3, Informative)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674941)

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.

Exactly why this is unworkable. (1)

guidryp (702488) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675059)

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:Exactly why this is unworkable. (2, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675133)

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.

Re:free battery replacement (3, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675097)

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.

Re:free battery replacement (1)

Ross D Anderson (1020653) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675297)

I'd have thought syphoning (sp?) petrol would be more of an issue than car battery theft would be simply due to the awquardness in location (if underneath the car), size and weight. I can't imagine they'd be very easy to remove and run off with.

Swap/recharge my car (4, Insightful)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674951)

    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.

Re:Swap/recharge my car (1)

Gage With Union (1174735) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675165)

I'm in favor of this, but this is going to make rear-end collisions considerably more expensive if your battery no longer fits where it's supposed to. Presumably I wasn't the first one to think of this, though.

Will never work... (0)

Alascom (95042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27674971)

This is a really stupid idea. Batteries for cars can costs upwards of $20-30k. What happens when some crook swaps out a fake battery for a real one? Are these stations really going to check the quality, retention, chemical composition, and other physical properties of every battery in 45 seconds? HA. These batteries aren't propane tanks for grills, the fraud will be HUGE!

Re:Will never work... (1)

PHPfanboy (841183) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675011)

If you're paying 20/30K for a battery, sounds like the crooks already got you. Ha!

The battery swap stations are going to be at Gas (Petrol) Stations and will be for Electric Only (NOT hybrid) cars. Specifically, it's for longer journeys where battery capacity can't manage.

Re:Will never work... (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675193)

Maybe you're trolling, maybe you are just quick to pan something without thinking it through.

If some crook swaps out a battery pack for a fake one, how is the crook going to drive the car? It's not like you can just show up with a case full of cinder blocks and try to pass it off as a battery.

OK, pedantry aside, I think that, yes, the battery swap stations will be able to determine the authenticity and condition of a battery when it comes in. Something like an encrypted ID chip could easily be built into the pack, which has a lot of electronics in it already to monitor health and whatnot. That kind of check can happen instantly. Even if that gets hacked or replicated by sophisticated thieves, the battery still needs to get checked out and recharged before it goes out again, which is plenty of time to sniff out fakes. If a fake is detected, it can easily be matched to the car that dropped it off, and appropriate action taken. It's not all that different from gasoline drive-offs, except here the car and gas station communicate, so it's pretty hard to be anonymous.

Even if a thief is able to craft a battery pack that is so indistinguishable from the real thing, will they actually be making any money from the crime?

And even if a thief is able to do this, that alone probably won't be enough to sink the company. Are the cell phone companies going out of business due to a rash of cheap knock-offs and counterfeit batteries? Does the electronics industry go bankrupt because people try to return empty PS3 boxes? Companies can absorb a surprisingly high amount of fraud into their bottom line, so long as they can plan for it in their business model. This guy Agassi sounds smarter and savvier than both you and I, so I doubt he's overlooked this.

RTG's, baby... (2, Interesting)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:RTG's, baby... (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675013)

Not to mention the fact that, once you're done manufacturing the battery, you've already expended more energy and emitted more CO2 than you would have had you simply just driving a conventional car.

Re:RTG's, baby... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675265)

Really? I would guess that the retail price of something reflects the maximum cost of dirty energy that could have gone into it (I mean, hopefully there isn't some wackjob burning money and energy; I guess government subsidies might do this, but probably not all that much below the wholesale price...), so it is certainly possible ($10,000 buys an awful lot of gasoline mileage), but it seems sort of difficult to pin down how to account for the mining of a material that can be recycled for many generations, and so forth.

Re:RTG's, baby... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27675337)

Are you kidding? When Average Joe hears the word radiation they bring out the NIMBY-fu on your ass faster than a /. editor posting a MS bashing "story".

The one second charge (1)

UncleWilly (1128141) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675001)

We just need to get cars equipped with hooks like this [idcow.net] . Then the charge station will be more like a drive-thru..next to a sub-station.

Robot Batteries (1)

c00rdb (945666) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675063)

What is going to replace the batteries for the robot when they run out????

What ever happened to hydrogen cars? (1)

oneirophrenos (1500619) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675109)

Is hydrogen economy scrapped or still under development?

Re:What ever happened to hydrogen cars? (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675271)

Oh, you remember the HyWire, then. In 2003, GM promised they'd have them in showrooms by 2010. That, they said, was why they weren't developing hybrids: they had something that was going to be much better.

Of course, for that to work we'd have had to have hydrogen filling stations on the corner by 2010 as well, and so far I haven't seen any at the local Mobil station.

Methinks the Chevy Volt is another HyWire--a PR stunt. I can't imagine Bob Lutz would want to leave at the moment of his greatest triumph, if he really believed the Volt was all he said was. But, time will tell.

I'm not sure battery replacement has a future (1)

MojoRilla (591502) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675137)

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 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.

But replacing batteries to extend electric car range? I think it makes no sense. Batteries make up a large percentage of the cost of electric cars. And companies like BYD and Tesla are already talking about selling batteries with higher capacities as options. Now would you want to swap out your battery, that is a huge part of the value of your car, with just any battery the charging station has? What if the battery you swap with has a shorter lifetime or limited capacity due to use? I think a more likely future schenario is quick charging, not swapping.

Re:I'm not sure battery replacement has a future (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675321)

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 the gasoline car works for 100%, it makes a lot more sense to buy the gasoline car. Renting is both expensive and cumbersome.

solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27675173)

WHy not in addition to this, make the roof have solar panels, seeing as solar panels are getting more efficient every year. This way while your at work, its giving a little extra charge so you may not need to race to the replacement station every day. Also if you know you are traveling far, but have half a charge are you supposed to pay for a full battery charge, seeing as your just doing a swap(propane exchange comes to mind). Kind of a waste of unused power.

Great Plan! (2, Insightful)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675187)

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.

Re:Great Plan! (1)

RobertinXinyang (1001181) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675371)

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 Service Station compnies have the infrastructure, and they have to motivation (Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Freedman goes into the alternate energy motivation and interest of people you would not think of as being part of "alternate Energy"). They are the ones to watch.

Nice! Averages out the cost and risk. (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675231)

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 station operator, who is presumably buying these in large quantities, spreads out the replacement cost and the risk. You obviously will pay more than if you owned your own battery and charged it yourself, but it will be a predictable cost that is easier to budget for.

Plus, if you do get a bad battery at one of these stations... if we assume there's a vast, dense network of them... the inconvenience of getting towed a few miles and having them just push the button for a quick, automated robot replacement will be far less than the inconvenience of getting an appointment to get your battery replaced under warranty at a car dealer.

Why not avoid batteries altogether? (3, Informative)

jockeys (753885) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675245)

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.

Too early to standardize (1)

MpVpRb (1423381) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675251)

Swapping requires standardization.

Electric car development is still in its infancy.

So...if we adopt and enforce some standard now, we might cripple future battery developers.

If we don't enforce standards, every electric car will have a battery with different size, shape, voltage and connector placement. Kinda like mobile phones, or portable computers.

"chicken and egg" of energy stations (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#27675313)

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?
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