Swappable batteries

There have been a few half hearted tests on the idea of swappable batteries for electric vehicles.  The idea that you pull into a fuel station and in 90 seconds swap in a fully charged battery has enormous potential on paper.  Imagine – while the UK is running out high speed charging points and strengthening infrastructure, how will most developing economies which are currently struggling with domestic electricity access ever accommodate EVs?  One answer is swappable batteries – and that has relevance to eCook.

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A great summary blog can be found from Parag Diwan.

The key points are that tests to date have tended to be weak.  When Tesla tried it they had fast charging points opposite, and you had to book in advance! Business models seem to be key.

When considering Battery Swapping Parag (and I) thinks that it all comes down to one major roadblock.  He notes that Standardization of EV Lithium Ion Battery Packs has not happened globally. “The probability of this happening in India is questionable. This is so because, majority of the auto OEMs preferring to control their design strategies for battery packs as their core technology“.

(He also thinks that for India there are two other roadblocks – Commercially Viable Business Models and Reliability of Leased/Rented Battery Packs.  True these are critical, but they shouldn’t be difficult to overcome.  With  mobile networks even in Sub Saharan Africa, tracking vehicles, building up data of transport flows, ensuring ‘fuel’ stations are placed at the most commercially viable spot, tracking and penalising those who try to side step quality, should all be possible (- not easy but possible).

What is more difficult though is how to get all manufacturers to agree on a global standard so a Nissan can swap with a Toyota, a Volvo with a Mercedes?

We have done it before, think about all the batteries in your cupboards – but it took a long time!  Apparently it all started around World War I, yes that is WWI not WWII, although it really only got going at WWII.  The letter system was universal by the 1940s, and the American National Standards Institute documented what sizes things should be.  They started with A, but apparently we then went smaller, hence the  AA, AAA and AAAA battery sizes.

The point being that with clarity on battery physical and storage sizes, appliances from a gazillion different manufacturers can all be used with standard batteries.  You dont buy electronic goods or even a torch with a lifetime supply of batteries from that manufacturer.  You just go to any shop and buy the ‘right’ batteries for that product.

Mind you, the trend is now towards a chargeable battery built into the product, and we all know the frustration of misplacing the charger only to find that the charger for our other torch or radio doesn’t work with it!  However, even that is changing rapidly with standardisation of micro USB for our phones – I can use a Samsung charger with my Google pixel.

So on the one hand we have a trend in small appliances towards a standard charger.  And I guess it is this thinking is currently mirrored in the EV market.  Charging stations.  Mind you at the moment vehicles even have different plugs and there will need to be standardisation of even the plug for EVs!

So alongside rolling out high speed charging networks, can the world agree on some standards for swappable batteries?

Why discuss this here at eCook?  Because having swappable batteries would greatly enable second life batteries.  I sat next to a recycler of EV batteries the other day and he said that at the moment each car battery pack is a different shape and cased in steel or even in the case of Tesla – titanium.  In order to reuse the batteries, they need to check each cell, and reconfigure them, which mean dismantling the whole pack – difficult.  If EV battery packs were in standard swappable units, that also could easily be checked for dud cells, then we can imagine an eCook system where swapping cells at the local ‘fuel’ station could cover for rainy periods, or when the relatives come to lunch.

It should be noted that colleagues at Loughborough University and United International University have been exploring household ‘nano grids’  that utilise the idea of battery swapping.  (With mixed results – but its early research so thats ok)

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