By on May 13, 2009

Wired Autopia has a video of Better Place’s prototype $500,000 quick battery swap station. Think of a Jiffy Lube station but much slicker and no scruffy guys in the basement. Driver pulls up, automated lift unscrews discharged battery from beneath and slides it down a conveyor belt, and then another battery is bolted in. Total time is a few minutes, similar to a gas tank fillup. The conventional-looking Nissan EV’s battery goes in where the gas tank was and has a similar shape. Tesla is to have their own battery swap setup that’s not compatible with that of Better Place. Let the hypothetical swappable battery wars begin!

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20 Comments on “A Better Place to Swap Batteries?...”


  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Press release
    Gallery 1
    Gallery 2

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Israel has been planning on offering hundreds of them throughout their country. I believe Denmark has decided to go forward with a similar plan as well.

    I believe it’s a fantastic idea if the country is willing to endure the growing pains that come with battery development. Israel and other small, developed, non-oil producing countries are probably in the best position to attract this type of infrastructural investment.

    PS: I know Israel makes about .5 million barrels of oil annually but I don’t see that as a major source of revenue for them.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    The technology is old…. Any warehouse or distribution center with a sizable number of forklifts already has a “gas station” where batteries are swapped for fresh ones. Lets you work multiple shifts with the lifts by avoiding downtime for recharging.

    Of course, one entity owns all the batteries, so there’s no concern about swapping your good battery for an old one.

    Maybe it’ll work if the manufacturers standardize battery design, but until the batteries become a commodity this business is going to be very capital intensive to get rolling.

  • avatar
    RayH

    They’ve secured $200,000,000 in venture capital, which is roughly twice as much as Tesla if memory serves right.
    It seems like a terrific idea, although if there are a limited number of bays at a specific location, I don’t see people being too happy. Waiting half an hour when the gas station normally has a pump open straight away would get my goat.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    I give them credit for thinking creatively about the problem. But, like all the infrastructure-intensive solutions to mobility (hydrogen, CNG, etc) it will likely succumb to the chicken-and-egg fate.
    The one really big idea that may survive is that the battery DOES NOT have to be from the same place as the car. If a standard interface could be mandated (they mandate an awful lot of things on cars, no reason this couldn’t be another one) then automakers could get out of the battery business, like they are out of the gasoline business, and consumers could benefit from sharing programs like Better Place, competition among battery companies to get market share, and they could take advantage of improvements in battery performance without having to trade in the whole car.

  • avatar
    Bytor

    Agassi is a slick salesman. This idea has no economic viability. It is based entirely on public financing. If you listen to Agassi remarks during interviews. The offhand numbers he uses to sell this in public are way off. About 10 times lower than a economically sustainable.

    Another boondoggle with a very slick salesman.

    In order for this to be sustainable, the battery rental/usage fee will end up being a lot more than you pay for gas.

    Agassi and associates will get rich. The governments in countries who adopt this will be supporting this money loser in the long term.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    I like the idea of an Agassi vs. Musk steel cage match Scam-Off! Send each guy in with $1M and the first one to convince the other guy to give up all his money wins…

    I could get rich making a reality TV show out of this!

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    If the name of the game is achieving critical mass, then Better Place is set to win against Tesla. Tesla is a rich people’s toy with no major presence in Europe, which was really noticeable at the Geneva motor show in March. Better Place in contrast has contracts with Nissan/Renault and pilots planned in several places in Europe in addition to Israel.

    I for one wouldn’t bet against Agassi. (I wouldn’t invest in his company either, but that’s just being careful).

  • avatar
    T2

    Let’s assume 600lbs of battery. That is some materials handling mechanism.
    Then, you have to consider Quick disconnect with 500Amp connectors and happening on a frequent basis.
    My prognosis – this is not going to happen.

    What I have visualized is a cottage industry of sorts like I have seen near some entertainment venues. Kids holding card board signs in their driveways “Park here for $8 bucks”

    In this case expanded into something more professional like B&B accomodation webrings but modified for commuters. You cellphone a number and they collectively find the nearest vacant berth for you with a 110v line.

  • avatar
    montgomery burns

    I see this as a nightmare of a business proposition.

    Do you have only batteries that will hold 80%+ plus of a charge? Or do you offer discounts on batteries that won’t give you your maximum range? And what would the range be and how would it be calculated anyway?

    I can hear it already: “Last week I was able to take little Dillon to school three days before a battery swap and this week it was only two days. What’s up with that?”

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    T2-
    Those are just mechanical engineering issues – I would think they can be dollared-to-death. BP is being pretty smart about leveraging existing technology, too- I read that they are using the same equipment to latch the batteries that the USAF uses to attach bombs to fighters. Already tested in conditions (temps, G force, vibration, failure rate tolerance) beyond what a normal car would see.
    I don’t think they have a technical problem, they have business problem.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Quick charging batteries are on the horizon, and may well make this unnecessary.

  • avatar
    A is A

    then automakers could get out of the battery business, like they are out of the gasoline business

    It´s true!. What a brilliant concept.

    Let’s assume 600lbs of battery. That is some materials handling mechanism.
    Then, you have to consider Quick disconnect with 500Amp connectors and happening on a frequent basis.
    My prognosis – this is not going to happen.

    Not so bright/responsible/sober drivers handling hoses that expell a pressurized highly flammable and explosive liquid (gasoline) is what is happening now.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Batteries are heavy, dangerous, and dirty. This looks like the right approach, as it takes humans out of the picture entirely.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    I would hope they have thought of the partial charge issue already. I believe they are charging per mile, not per energy unit, so if your battery only got you 80 miles that’s what you’d pay. The system is very software-heavy, so they will know when you last swapped and how much juice was in the battery you got and was left when you swapped it out. Or they will just charge you on the GPS-tracked miles you have driven (this is, of course, a DOWN side to this plan, and I also assume they will be selling that data to interested parties as another profit center!)

    “Quick charging batteries are on the horizon, and may well make this unnecessary.”
    An excellent point, and another reason why massive-investment-in-new-infrastructure business models will fail in the end – you are always behind the technology curve. The minute you build something you are stuck, and then technology passes you.

    Agassi is taking a gamble that he can establish a widely-accepted standard by being the first. The problem with going first with technology is that you are an easy target. Once the huge-kick-back-for-exclusive-rights deals he is no doubt making with all these governments expire, he risks becoming the Betamax of battery schemes.

  • avatar
    maniceightball

    Yeah, a lot of people clamor on about the technical/engineering issues, but they’re quite fixable. I honestly have not seen an insurmountable problem (even financially — it seems viable to me) in BP.

    They’ve been pretty pragmatic about it, so I have my hopes up for this plan.

  • avatar
    nonce

    I’ve been distrustful of battery-swap programs. However, there are two things about Better Place that make me think it could work.

    1. Israel is willing to bite the bullet. If it requires some modifications to their lifestyle in order to slow down the trillions of dollars flowing to the petrostates that is then used to fund terrorism against them, they’ll do it. (Terrorism isn’t theoretical there.)

    2. The business model. If I owned the battery in my car, I wouldn’t let a $10,000 piece of equipment get swapped out for a possible dud. However, with a leasing model, the company needs to give me a good battery at swap. If I get a dud then they swap it out and then deal with the old one.

    It’s certainly a better idea than hydrogen.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i am unconvinced about this as well

    relatively expensive capital costs and it relies on the fact that your battery is *THIS* heavy, *THIS* size and lasts *THIS* long

    what if someone comes out with a battery the size of a 20kg suitcase that charges in 1hr off 110v that mounts in the floor of your trunk?

    all that infrastructure is dead – of course if your business revolves around the financing, business model, building and maintenance of that said infrastructure, I can see why you would push it

    if it fails after 5 years who gives a shit? I’d be on the Riviera trying my next venture. Hey it ain’t my money, it’s the taxpayers.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Total time is a few minutes, similar to a gas tank fillup.”

    And you will only have to do it once every 60 miles or 100 km, whichever comes first.

    “Israel has been planning on offering hundreds of them throughout their country.”

    Which is tiny. It is about 8100 sq mi, about 90% the size of New Jersey. Much of which is desert. It is only about 200 mi from end to end, and 120 mi from Haifa in the north to Beer-sheva in the south, and only about 50 mi from east to west.

    Oh yeah, and it doesn’t get cold.

    Different courses, different horses.

  • avatar
    davejay

    It seems like a terrific idea, although if there are a limited number of bays at a specific location, I don’t see people being too happy. Waiting half an hour when the gas station normally has a pump open straight away would get my goat.

    That’s actually an easy one; at launch, you’ll have the smallest number of available bays, but also the smallest number of cars on the road. As demand for stations increases, so will the time that’s passed for them to build more stations, and the relative viability of the whole thing (or lack of it) should become more apparent.


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