A new approach to swapping electric car batteries, from Startup Ample

The holy grail of electric cars is a full charge as fast as a full tank of gas. We’re still at least half an hour away from that, but startup Ample thinks it can narrow the gap significantly with a new take on the idea of ​​swapping EV batteries instead of charging them at cars.

Electric car battery swapping isn’t a new idea and was portrayed in an unflattering shade of “unworkable” after the resounding failure of Better Place in 2013 and after Tesla pulled out of early interest. for the idea. Ample’s twist is to put standard, interchangeable batteries under the belly of any car without its manufacturer having to design vehicles around them or share a large common battery with competitors.

“We’re actually not asking (the automaker) to make any changes to their car,” says Ample co-founder John de Souza. “It’s huge. We’re not trying to sell anything to OEMs, just sell a lot more vehicles.”

The Ample battery frame that replaces a factory EV battery. Modular battery trays, seen at right, fill in the spaces where the monolithic factory battery resided.

presentation tour

Ample does this by creating its own interface tray under the car that follows the general size and placement of the stock monolithic stock battery. In this interface, Ample raises its own standardized battery trays that add up to roughly the same total storage capacity. The final detail is a network of charging stations that uses proprietary robotics to swap battery trays as a car enters, whether for a full swap in 10 minutes or a partial swap in less time.

Ample battery robot

Ample’s proprietary robotic technology removes a battery tray from the array under a car.

presentation tour

Ample’s de Souza says this approach frees automakers to do whatever they want and let his company handle the design and support of replaceable EV batteries in the automaker’s battery space. automobile. Ample’s modular battery design also creates a granularity that makes battery repairs and upgrades much easier because an entire fixed battery over 1,000 pounds doesn’t have to come out. Ample is initially focused on installing its technology in high-use ride-sharing and corporate fleets. So he expects to see each car at least once a week, creating plenty of natural opportunities for easy battery maintenance.

“For us, making a change is built into the model,” says de Souza. “You don’t have to do a huge rappel to get all the cars back.” This has some relevance with a type of powertrain that is still in its early days of refinement and debugging.

Ample battery tray

Inside each of Ample’s battery trays are four proprietary battery modules that are filled with industry standard cells.

presentation tour

Another advantage of an Ample swap station is the reduction in “pacifier time”: a full battery swap should take 10 minutes or less, compared to a plug-in charge which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, without count the time an inattentive driver can take. leave their fully charged EV in a public charging station.

EV charging standby time

Is this driver waiting for their car to be charged or for someone else to move their fully charged car so they can charge theirs? Battery swap technology circumvents these problems.

Getty Images/Roadshow

De Souza says his company has attracted a lot of interest from automakers because Ample isn’t trying to change what they do, but is actually asking that they do less by not even installing a main battery. in some cars. I’ll be interested to see how long and deep that welcome turns out: Batteries are the new engines, and asking an automaker to bend you with theirs can be like asking Coke to alter their recipe for your vending machine. Ample will need to convince automakers that its battery swaps are worth supporting and won’t damage the reputation of automakers at a time when all manufacturers are trying to convince a largely skeptical public that electric vehicles are as normal and reliable as cars with combustion engines.

Charging locations are generally seen as a pain in the neck for both real estate and power infrastructure, but Ample says its technology relieves those pressures rather than exacerbating them. The company charges the batteries at its exchange stations using garden-variety Tier II technology that is inexpensive and easy to supply, like EV technology does. Just as AOL was able to support tens of millions of dial-up users with far fewer modem ports than that, Ample will need to accurately forecast demand to enable its 10-minute runtime with a slower Tier II load. .

Much faster Level III charging, like the Tesla Network Supercharger, may be the answer for many drivers, but de Souza thinks Level III charging times and scaling time are still too long. “When we started eight years ago, people told us we would soon have (ubiquitous) 350 kilowatt chargers,” he says. “Eight years later, people are still telling us that next year we’ll have 350 kilowatt chargers.” He also says super-fast DC charging is harder on batteries and harder to scale with local infrastructure.

The “Goldilocks” solution for electric car charging is not yet clear and may never be a unique proposition like gas stations. But certainly for managed electric fleets that are expected to grow in importance, battery swapping smartly solves the real pain of charging infrastructure rather than an overemphasis on battery capacity.

About Robert Pierson

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