Neither in Europe nor in the United States the idea of a battery exchange system that allows electric vehicles recover all your autonomy in a few minutes. However, what has not worked in the West seems to be working in the East and more specifically in China. The pilot project launched there by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology intends to establish a favorable environment to this system to make it fully operational in your country.
In the West, all the initiatives that tried to implement a system they have failed miserably. Considering the exchange of batteries as an option added to the recharging network has been losing followers for different reasons.
The system Renault Better Place, launched in 2012, combined battery rental and sharing, although it was probably ahead of its time. The project was linked to Fluence EV, a large vehicle with the battery occupying much of the trunk and with little autonomy, which made it an uncomfortable city car to drive. On the other hand, the robotic infrastructure was complex and expensive. The robotic platform Quick Drop removed the discharged battery pack and replaced it with a full one in just a few minutes.
Acceptance was void by customers, leading the company to bankruptcy. This result was interpreted, perhaps too quickly by many outside observers, as the classic expression of “a dead end”: the exchange of batteries of electric vehicles it is possible on paper but not in reality.
Tesla did a field test with a similar system and he found that it was not an interesting one for his customers, especially having behind his wide network of Superchargers, at that time free. The battery exchange also required the payment of a fee and did not solve the property problem, since in the case of Tesla there is no possibility of renting it.
The obstacles to a seemingly logical idea
The scenario in which an electric vehicle, whatever its size, is drawn to recover all its energy in the same time it takes to fill a fuel tank requires a lot of will to overcome obstacles very important.
The first of these is the great diversity of battery packs that equip electric vehicles. With the change of batteries, it is necessary move towards standardization. Something that, for example, is happening with the Combo CCS direct current charging connector that is gradually displacing CHAdeMO and the 43 kW three-phase alternating current charging system.
Currently, in China there are about ten different standards in the battery exchange ecosystem. Hence the urgent need to simplify in which the authorities of the country that advocates adopting standardized packs and modular batteries, and also in working to improve the useful life of the cells. In the United States, the startup Ample works in this direction in a pilot project focused on its employment in various fleets that work in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California.
The pilot project in China
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China (MIIT) has prepared a pilot project that is planned from 2021 to 2035 and aims to expand the exchange of batteries for electric vehicles. A scenario in which Nio is already very committed, and he intends to apply it to Europe. The Chinese manufacturer bets on this technology with an exchange system similar to that of Renault. Its stations can autonomously replace the battery in about three minutes and it is combined with a battery rental system that reduces the price of vehicles. More recently, the Chinese group Geely announced its intention to deploy a network of 5,000 battery exchange stations, which by 2025 will have a total of 5,000 stations.
The pilot program takes place in 11 cities and adds a novelty to this system and that is that it will also apply to heavy electric vehicles. Yibin, Tangshan and Baotou are the three cities that will focus on the exchange of electric truck battery packs. The other eight, Beijing, Nanjing, Wuhan, Sanya, Chongqing, Changchun, Hefei and Jinan, will be dedicated to interchange stations for both commercial and passenger cars. The list of cities could later be supplemented with others that have been left out for the moment but have also expressed their interest in this technology.
The national plan foresees the installation of more than 1,000 new exchange stations on different roads that will be accompanied by the putting into circulation of, at least, 100,000 electric vehicles compatible with the system. To date, there are already 900 of these infrastructures in China, which are visited by 150,000 vehicles of 200 different models.
Benefits for the future
According to the ministry, this technology would help facilitate the adoption of electric vehicles. First, because will significantly moderate the price of vehicles, which will not include the battery. In addition, it will reduce the wait to regain autonomy to similar times to which it takes to fill a fuel tank, which is what drivers are used to. This perception will eliminate one of the handicaps that hinder the purchase decision favorable to an electric car. Finally, the Chinese authorities are assuring that this system is more secure that recharges through connection to the network.
In its program, MIIT establishes three key points for the establishment of a favorable environment for the development of battery exchange. The first step is strengthen the organization and coordination of work. Next, efforts should be made to establish and improve management, supervision and security systems of the stations. Finally, it is necessary to define and show the characteristics of a demonstrator that can serve as a model for future infrastructures.
For the Chinese ministry, the establishment of this battery exchange network will bring two fundamental benefits. It will reduce the consumption of 700,000 tons of fuel and will prevent the emission of two million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. The exchange of batteries is established as a complementary system to that of recharging because each of these solutions has its applications and its group of users.