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Better Place launches battery switching system for EVs

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June 18, 2010

A battery-switchable elevtric taxi at the entrance to a battery switch station

A battery-switchable elevtric taxi at the entrance to a battery switch station

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By now must of us are aware of the benefits of electric vehicles (EVs). They’re better for the environment, they’re quiet, they have less moving parts and are therefore more reliable and cheaper to operate and maintain than their combustion-powered counterparts. But it’s obviously not all upside or EVs would be the rule on our roads rather than the exception. One of the major hurdles is the time it takes for them to recharge their batteries. One solution is swapping a dead battery for a fully charged one. That’s just what a project in Tokyo is doing with the launch the world’s first switchable-battery electric taxi.

“Tokyo has more taxis than London, Paris, and New York combined, with approximately 60,000 vehicles, representing a high mileage, high visibility segment that can serve as the catalyst for this technology to transfer to the mass market,” said Kiyotaka Fujii, President of Better Place Japan, an EV services provider based in California.

Tokyo electric taxi project

For the Tokyo electric taxi project, Better Place and Nihon Kotsu, Tokyo’s largest taxi operator, will operate three switchable-battery electric taxis, which are available to the public at the taxi line reserved for environmentally-friendly vehicles on the first floor of the Roppongi Hills Complex. Better Place worked on the design, engineering and conversion of the gasoline powered, crossover utility vehicles turning them into electric taxis with switchable batteries that are provided by A123 Systems.

The electric taxis will be supported by a network of charging points and battery switch stations that swap the taxis' batteries located in the underbelly of the vehicles through an automated process. The aim is to overcome the dual problems of relatively short range and long downtimes for battery recharging.

Underbelly of electric taxi during battery switch process

Better Place ran a demonstration of the switchable-battery taxi in Yokahama last year and its success prompted Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to commission the Tokyo project. The battery switch station deployed in Tokyo represents a significant advancement over the Yokohama switch system, featuring the integration of battery storage and charging with optimal thermal management capabilities. The Tokyo switch station also features nearly continuous operation of switching batteries for the three vehicles while optimizing battery life and performance, which can be monitored in real time online.

Best option for heavy use vehicles

Without switchable batteries the repeated, rapid charging needed for heavy use vehicles such as electric taxis degrades the lifespan and performance of the batteries used in EVs. And for such vehicles even 20-30 minute quick charge options are impractical anyway, as every second a taxi is off the road costs the operator money.

Those behind the Tokyo electric-taxi project see battery-switching as the only cost-effective solution that delivers the flexibility required. It can deliver an “instant charge” – a fully charged battery in less time than it takes to fill a conventional vehicle’s fuel tank or recharge an EV via other charging methods.

“Since our initial announcement of this project, we’ve heard from cities around the world interested in converting their taxi fleets as a concrete way to fight CO2 emissions and urban pollution. Electric taxis are a pragmatic step forward for governments as well as a lucrative segment in the electrification of transport,” said Fujii.

The project will run for 90 days to demonstrate the duration, durability, robustness and resistance to degradation of the battery switch process under actual operating conditions with vehicles that operate nearly continuously.

The project marks a major milestone for Better Place leading up to a complete system test of all components of the company’s EV solution in Israel before year’s end, ahead of a commercial launch of its EV solution in Israel and Denmark planned for late 2011.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
7 Comments

I am surprised to see the claim that the Tokyo project was the first electric taxi to use battery swapping technology. In 2000, I rode around Kathmandu in a Safa Tempo, which is their very popular and successful electric taxi, and visited one of their service depots, where battery swapping took place. Tokyo will have to take a back seat on this one!

http://www.kathmanduhotels.org/travels/safa-tempos-electric-vehicles-to-save-pollution/

graybar11
18th June, 2010 @ 07:10 am PDT

An interesting article. However all the supposed statements of fact about electric vehicles being environmentally better than conventional vehicles are wrong after taking in to account the impact of the batteries, and the generating plants to needed to create the electricity to charge them. Until these problems are fixed electric vehicles will always create more pollution and be more expensive.

indy500are
18th June, 2010 @ 08:46 am PDT

A vehicle has a finite number of parts, so it uses 'fewer' parts not 'less'.

Less is used for a continuous quantity such as fuel.

The vehicle uses less fuel. The vehicle has fewer parts.

Darren should go back to school, quickly!

http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000214.htm

PizzaEater
18th June, 2010 @ 09:28 am PDT

As previously posted in Gizmag, I'm waiting for the much cheaper method of producing Hydrogen & cheaper fuel cells to go commercial. That combination plus a small battery pack should make for a very flexible EV that should also make the enviros happy!

Will, the tink
18th June, 2010 @ 03:47 pm PDT

Um, no, electric cars ARE better on the environment, and power plants and batteries they require do not negate their positive points. I suggest you watch Who Killed the Electric Car? on DVD. It covers these issues. It'll make a believer out of you as it did me.

Batteries can be recycled, and over their lifetimes they put far, far less harmful waste and pollution into the environment than gasoline. The energy that has to be produced by power plants to charge the batteries, even on a massive scale, produces a fraction of the pollution compared to the use of fossil fuels by a conventional car. The cost of charging a car for a day's use is also much less per mile than the cost of the same amount of gas. And how much does it cost in monmey and resources to produce replacement parts for fossil fuel cars such as engines, mufflers, oxygen sensors, carbeurators, radiators, and many other parts that electric vehicles don't have at all?

The key to the success of the electric car is what these guys have finally caught on to, which is interchangeable batteries. So far, electric cars almost all require overnight charging which means their mileage is limited, and people secretly fear they'll run out of juice far from home. Getting away from cars that have to be at home every night to be charged is a great step forward. Having battery stations just as we have gas stations now eliminates both of these obstacles. Why it took so long is a mystery.

Swodfish
19th June, 2010 @ 08:18 pm PDT

I find it interesting that many people speak out against EVs on the grounds that the grid will not be able to keep up with the demands of charging the batteries, while these same people are strangely silent about the growing use of plasma screen TV's, our tendency to overcool/overheat our buildings, and similar hidden but significant power demands. It is also much easier to control the centralized emissions from a power plant than tailpipe emissions from millions of poorly tuned cars and motorbikes. It may not be the right solution for you, here, now, but for most of the world it may be the only option that lets people breathe.

graybar11
21st June, 2010 @ 07:39 am PDT

Swodfish: What's a DVD? LOL. You mean see it on YouTube?

But I do agree that quick change batteries should be a possible range extending option for EV, with most people still just charging them at home, but on trips you can just swap out the battery module. Problem is that the automakers meed to come up with a few standard sizes because more than ...say 3 standard packs will mean that recharging stations just can't carry enough charged and ready to go packs for every car that comes along.

Graybar11: totally agree, emissions will improve soo much.

I also think that these recharging stations should all have large solar roofs for recharging so the power distribution issue basically goes away.

Mark in MI
21st June, 2010 @ 02:49 pm PDT
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