Main menu


Replacing batteries in electric vehicles at breakneck speed

Battery replacement companies claim the technology can match the speed of a conventional gas station, but experts say shipping may still be the preferred option for many.

car battery car machine car motor mechanic car engine mechanical workshop car service car workshop car garage car repair car maintenance car mechanic automotive engine automobile garage technician repair service mechanic man cars automotive repair repair man maintenance worker maintenance service maintenance installation electric motor service man electrical work electrical services electrical installation car electrical equipment

Although charging has become the dominant way to power electric vehicle batteries on the road, companies have introduced another option that they believe is faster than the fastest current chargers: replacing the batteries.

Recently, startup Ample; The company, which operates in San Francisco, is showing a demo of its new battery replacement system, which the company says can put a full battery in an electric vehicle instead of a depleted one in 5 minutes.

Replacing batteries may boost the popularity of electric cars

Ampel is just one of several current and former companies that have undertaken similar projects. Replacing the batteries aims to match the ease and speed of filling up at traditional gas stations, and proponents of the method say it could help boost the popularity of electric cars by making it easier to power them up to replenish their range. But there are experts who are skeptical about the feasibility of this method, and consider replacing the batteries an expensive solution that will, at best, serve only a small and limited segment of people during the future era that awaits electric transportation.

The new Ampel-designed battery replacement stations look like a Silicon Valley-themed car wash, with a sparkling white finish and rounded corners. “Our overall vision is to provide an experience that is as fast, affordable, and convenient as a traditional gas station,” says Hamid Shreker, product manager at Ampel, when he shows me a video tour.

Can batteries be replaced in electric cars?

Ampel station occupies an area equivalent to a car park with approximately two cars capacity and provides its services by car drive-through. When the car is ready for exchange, the driver approaches it towards the station, at which point the door opens, revealing a platform inside. After guiding the car into its correct position on the platform by following the instructions shown on the screens inside the station, the driver presses a button within an app connected to the station to initiate the replacement process. 

After that, the station platform raises the car, including passengers, to the top a distance of a meter and a few meters, and the internal mechanisms begin to work; It removes used batteries from the car, and replaces them with new, full batteries. When the replacement process is complete, the platform lowers to return the car to the road, and the driver can set off with the batteries charged and ready to go.

The depleted batteries can then be charged over several hours and installed in another car. Although batteries can be charged more quickly, slower charging helps slow their aging, says Ampel president and co-founder John D'Souza. The number of possible replacements will be limited by the capacity of the connection with the electrical network. If the capacity of the station's connection with the electrical network reaches 100 kW, the station will be able to charge 48 batteries with a capacity of 50 kWh and replace them within one day.

Ampel has 12 first-generation replacement stations built in the San Francisco area. Combined, these stations perform a few hundred exchanges per day, each operation taking about 10 minutes, De Souza says. The startup has partnered with Uber; This is to prove the usefulness of the method of replacing the batteries in applied cases that require intensive use of the vehicle; such as car-sharing fleets. But the company's ultimate vision is to design a system that is compatible with all electric cars so that it allows people who commute between work and home daily, or who travel long distances, to easily make the replacement process and position within the roads they pass through.

Does it cost to replace the batteries in an electric car?

Building the replacement stations will be more expensive than building the superchargers, and Ampel declined to disclose any exact information about how much it plans to spend on each station, saying only that it will be less than the cost of other battery replacement stations, which can cost up to half a million to build and install. dollar.

For this; Ampel proposed a modular system solution. Rather than taking out the entire battery at once and installing a new one, the startup plans to fit several groups of small batteries into the battery housing. This solution helps reduce the cost of the machinery required to move the batteries; Because these pieces are smaller in size, according to de Souza.

De Souza says modular design also plays a critical role. It can make it easier for auto manufacturers to achieve compliance with this project. Ampel's vision is to get automakers to build their cars with an empty space for the battery. Ampel can then build an encapsulation structure for this exact type of car, and put as many modules as possible into it.

car fix car maintenance car mechanic car workshop car repair car service mechanical workshop car inspection car check mechanic car diagnostic car tools auto parts repair service check engine automobile parts car engine repairman maintenance service repair mechanic tools fix maintenance worker part maintenance engine automobile wrench car safety work uniform maintenance tools repair tools car vehicle car fuel

The number of units can be adjusted according to the size of the vehicle (a small car can accommodate fewer than sizeable four-wheel drive cars) and the needs of the driver. Someone may want to install fewer units for daily driving, and load more units for long trips, says de Souza.

To date, Ample replacement stations are compatible with two models that carry the company's own batteries: the Nissan Leaf and the Kia Niro. According to de Souza, the system is compatible with 13 car models, although no other car company partner has been announced.

Questioning the approach to replacing batteries

Some experts question the feasibility of this new vision of battery replacement and believe it is still impractical, despite all the new modifications. "I think it's unlikely that battery replacement will ever become the main method of battery handling for caravans in general," says Jeremy Michalik, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Each type and model of electric car spread on the roads are equipped with a different battery in terms of design, shape, and chemical composition. Replacement requires standardization, and even if the modular design can provide a degree of flexibility, it will eventually turn out to be a difficult constraint for automakers. "Placing units of the same size in different cars would impose severe restrictions," Michalik adds.

In the driver's seat

While outside companies such as Ampel seek to build a standardized battery replacement environment, some automakers are building their own infrastructure that gives them more control over the details.

In China, Nio has established itself as a major competitor in battery replacement. The automaker has deployed approximately 1,400 commercial battery replacement stations, most of them in China, although the company has also begun to expand its operations in European countries such as Norway and the Netherlands as well. The company has set a goal of installing 2,300 stations by the end of 2022.

Convenience is the main attractive feature for customers, according to the Senior Vice President of Energy Management at Niu, Xin. He asserts that the time required for battery replacement and fueling is comparable.

When replacing batteries, Neo stations move them all at once. The company offers 3 different options for batteries with different capacities; As each type of them is compatible with the cars that make them all.

Replacing the batteries isn't the only option customers have, Shin says. They can be charged at the fast-charging stations that Neo also builds. However, the option to exchange is available, and there are customers who resort to it. There are 300,000 Neo cars on the road today, and the percentage of users of replacement stations is approximately 60%, according to company data. The company's stations have carried out a total of 20 million replacement operations, and the latest of these stations can perform 400 replacement operations per day.

Niu is not the only battery replacement company in China; Where 6 Chinese companies plan in total; Including NEO, to install 26,000 battery replacement stations in the country by 2025, according to forecasts by energy research firm BNEF.

Slow down

These efforts may find success in high-end markets. But companies like Neo likely won't be able to serve the vast majority of drivers, says Gil Tal, director of the Center for Electric Vehicle Research and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles at the University of California, Davis. "I think it's a very expensive solution," he adds.

Not only are the costs paid by car replacement companies building the costly replacement stations (which, according to some preliminary estimates, can cost nearly twice as much as an equivalent charging station); but It also includes the cost of maintaining the complex equipment and machinery used in the process. "It's very difficult to manage a large number of replacement stations, as they all have to have a high degree of reliability," says Shin.

Neo and some other battery replacement companies plan to collect monthly fees from customers for their battery concessions and replacement services. In Norway, the lowest-capacity Neo battery costs around 135$ per month, and owning the battery directly costs around 8,500$.

How many EV batteries have been replaced?

The marginal savings in time and extra costs aren't worth it. The majority of electric car owners never go beyond the vehicle's maximum mileage, according to Tal. He adds that for those who exceed it, and they are few, stopping by a fast charger for 15 or 20 minutes will not be much worse than stopping to replace the battery.

The performance of large chargers continues to improve, and currently, Tesla's ultra-fast charging network provides a charging capacity of up to 250 kW; Which is enough to add approximately 322 kilometers to the vehicle's range. Some of the high-speed chargers currently operating can charge the batteries with a capacity of 350 kilowatts.

Companies might be able to run battery replacement stations where people pay extra for speed; As in the case of luxury cars, fleets of delivery trucks, or taxis. This method is likely to be useful in some limited cases where stopping at a fast charger becomes too much of a hindrance. However, until further notice, car charging will remain our preferred option when we ditch the gas stations.