Toyota shows off portable, swappable hydrogen cartridges

someOtherGuy

Posts: 53   +32
A company called "Better Place" had this thought and was working on something in the early 2000s, but didn't gain any traction and eventually went under. They were working with a car company (Renault I think?) to make low cost electric vehicles that were everything but the batter, and the battery module was a modular component that could be removed and swapped easily. The idea was that people could get into an EV cheap, and the company would own and manage the battery hardware. Think a subscription kind of service for the batteries. You could charge up normally, or drive into a setup similar to a small automated car wash, where a robot would drop the battery from below the car and swap in a fresh one - 5 minutes to a full charge, back on the road. It eliminated the headaches of consumers dealing with aging batteries, keeping up with new battery tech, etc. Clever idea, probably a bit ahead of its time, they even did pilot programs in a few places.

The hot swap service was the part that was most interesting to me. Something that many existing fuel stations could adopt to create the infrastructure to handle supplying refreshed batteries, spreading a network throughout areas with existing gasoline stations. Too bad it failed to coalesce into something viable.

The problem that I see with this model is "value". A battery is basically a car part, opposed to "fuel" (a battery would compare to a gas tank, and electricity to gas). That means that you could potentially have a gray market for them (not sure how many people buy gas outside gas stations).

With that in mind, let's assume you'll have a "changing station" that will service 100 cars every 4h, which is the time that will take you to service each battery. That would mean that your station would have at least 100 batteries lying around at any given time (and also overnight). Let's say that each battery costs ~$10k, that's $1M worth of batteries lying around with minimum security. Keep in mind that we're talking 25 cars/h, or 1 car every 2 minutes or so, that's not a lot; real numbers should be higher, unless you manage to lower the service time, which I made up since I have no idea how much time would it take to service a battery in this scheme. You could also do a lot "tricks" with the "subscription" method, like returning a dummy battery in exchange for a "fresh" one, which would yield a ~$10k profit with little effort and exposure. The bottom line is very simple: car batteries are too valuable to be moving them around so freely, they ARE the EV, for not so overprices EVs, that is.
 

Vrmithrax

Posts: 1,600   +669
The problem that I see with this model is "value". A battery is basically a car part, opposed to "fuel" (a battery would compare to a gas tank, and electricity to gas). That means that you could potentially have a gray market for them (not sure how many people buy gas outside gas stations).

With that in mind, let's assume you'll have a "changing station" that will service 100 cars every 4h, which is the time that will take you to service each battery. That would mean that your station would have at least 100 batteries lying around at any given time (and also overnight). Let's say that each battery costs ~$10k, that's $1M worth of batteries lying around with minimum security. Keep in mind that we're talking 25 cars/h, or 1 car every 2 minutes or so, that's not a lot; real numbers should be higher, unless you manage to lower the service time, which I made up since I have no idea how much time would it take to service a battery in this scheme. You could also do a lot "tricks" with the "subscription" method, like returning a dummy battery in exchange for a "fresh" one, which would yield a ~$10k profit with little effort and exposure. The bottom line is very simple: car batteries are too valuable to be moving them around so freely, they ARE the EV, for not so overprices EVs, that is.
Yep, it definitely had its issues (and much of what you say probably contributed to the company folding without being able to prove it was sustainable). It was a very interesting concept, though, in taking the battery out of the equation for an EV. The battery is a big chunk of the cost of the vehicle, and one of the largest later costs for maintenance when it wears out. The intent was to take those issues out of the equation, and allow for batteries to wear out, get replaced when/if new better battery technologies come around, etc. And they had worked out figures that a very low number of batteries could service a very large number of vehicles, because the swap option would not be massively overused, mostly used when making longer trips.

Interesting concept, hard to make it viable. The swap system was pretty unique, I think they were even using it in a pilot program for taxi service in California to test it out. Ultimately, infrastructure (swap stations located at appropriate intervals) and ways to prevent fraud or theft of the batteries would be the biggest hurdles. Fast charging stations and quicker charge technology advancements in general have reduced the advantages of a quick battery swap system. Pretty groundbreaking concept for it's time, though.