A battery start-up named Ample, formed by ex-Tesla and Google engineers, says it wants to deploy a network of electric vehicle battery swap stations that would allow EV owners to drive off with a full battery within 10 minutes.
Emerging from “stealth mode” after seven years research and development, the start-up says that the battery swap stations would require no special infrastructure as they could be dropped in any carpark.
With $70 million funding under its belt, Ample is collaborating with Uber and says it is also working with “some of the world’s largest automakers to integrate modular battery design into their electric cars,” although it did not name which ones.
Ample’s mission to provide an alternative to charging infrastructure is based around the notion that the difficult paradigm shift away from refuelling is slowing down electric car adoption, and that charging infrastructure is too expensive to profit from without government assistance.
It also says that fleet utilisation is diminished by long charge times particularly for those that require long-range driving.
Ample proposes to solve these problems by swapping out batteries, which are then placed on shelves for recharging.
But the solution raises some questions. As Ample notes, it would need carmakers to enter into agreements to alter the design of their vehicles to accommodate the modular batteries, which it says would be “lego-like” to cater for any size and model vehicle.
It would also likely mean that any carmaker integrating the Ample battery modules would do away with any sort of warranty, a precious commodity for most customers.
Battery swapping is not, of course, a new idea. Better Place pioneered the idea, Chinese EV maker Nio is pinning its battery swap solution as a unique selling point, and Taiwanese e-scooter company Gogoro has quite successfully deployed more than 2,000 battery swapping stations for its electric moped customers throughout Taiwan.
A consortium of four major motorbike manufacturers including Honda and Yamaha has also announced it will work towards a modular, universal battery for all makers’ bikes so that riders can swap them quickly and easily.
While it seems a reasonable solution for one company with a concentration of cars in a particular market, or personal transport vehicles in which batteries can be manually swapped by a rider, whether it would work for multiple car brands is the question.
Installing the battery swap station is not as simple as dropping it in a car park either, as high voltage would need to be supplied to the site.
Any charging routine would also need to include cell smoothing to ensure battery health. Would drivers prefer the battery devil they know (having cared for it themselves), or opt for a quick battery swap “refill”?