The Modular Battery Exchange System:
A Common Sense Approach to Full Adoption of Clean Electric Transportation
A Better Solution
The need for electric vehicles is extremely clear. There are three primary factors that indicate why the electric vehicle (EV) is a superior alternative to the fossil fuel vehicle. For starters, gas automobiles are now the largest net contributor to climate change pollution (NASA) and produce significant amounts of air pollution, even with EPA standards. Secondly, electric vehicles potentially offer a lower overall operating cost than gas vehicles. This might not be true with current EV technology, but as batteries grow smaller, and with a different battery owner infrastructure (which we’ll talk about later), the cost of EV ownership will decrease significantly. And lastly, the electric vehicle is a much more elegant design with fewer complex mechanisms and no emissions or tailpipes. Not to mention, they are very fun to drive, producing high amounts of torque and acceleration.
What is Wrong With EV’s Today?
Today’s modern EV is a mountain of improvement since the early EVs, but there are still significant flaws that plague the electric vehicle industry, and most of these deal with the battery. Current EV batteries are heavy and large, impossible to replace at home and requiring specialized equipment only a service station would have. They are, also, very costly, some comprising about half the value of the total car cost. One of the largest pitfalls of the EV is the range of the battery. The average EPA electric range of most affordable EVs is about 70-100 miles per charge, while some of the higher end cars advertise 265 miles per charge. Additionally, it takes a significant amount of time to charge these batteries to full range (more about charge times here). The combination of small range and long charging times pose a significant deterrence to the adoption of EVs as an alternative to gas vehicles.
What Is The M-BEAM System?
The Modular Battery Exchange and Active Management system was developed after it was evident that the industry is in need of a push in a new direction. The concept of modular exchange is simple. It is not much different than a flashlight: remove old batteries, put in new ones. One would pull up to an exchange station, remove the 18-20 depleted battery modules weighing 20-30 lbs. each, and replace with new modules and drive away. This would take about the same time as refueling at a standard gas station. As battery technology matures, battery module size will resemble that of a tissue box, weighing less than 10 pounds, making exchange very easy. The potential benefits of modular exchange are immense.
- With the correct infrastructure, modular exchange would provide virtually unlimited range without long charge periods.
- Over 40% of people in urban environments don’t have access to wall outlets to charge EVs. With the modular system, users could bring modules into their home to recharge or conveniently go to a exchange station for quick refueling.
- The active battery management of our modular system is designed to make electric vehicles safe for first responders, preventing electric shock during accidents.
- The costs savings of modular exchange will make the car significantly cheaper than even a gas car. The car owner would not need to own a battery, but rather lease the battery, and only pay to charge it up at home or exchange for new ones.
- As the connectors corrode and modules age, the system is actively balanced to improve reliability. This also allows for the partial exchange of battery modules.
Why Don’t We Use Modular Exchange Today?
There are some significant obstacles that have prevented modular batteries from gaining acceptance in the EV world. The first is preventing electrocution during removal and replacement of high voltage modules. Our modules ensure that the output voltage is equal to 0 unless the battery is in the vehicle and enabled by a key switch. The second is the interoperability issue. If the modular exchange system was to be adopted, different types of batteries would invariably be introduced into the market. With our active battery management system, you can mix any battery of any chemistry/condition/age/charge level.
Another barrier to overcome is the industry opposition to modular exchange. They have chosen fast charge as the charging method of choice because they want to control the battery. They don’t want a third party involved; and want to maintain the profit from the selling of the battery with the car. Also, vehicle designers don’t really want to re-design the car to have battery “ports”. This is not an impossible thing, but we do believe that a solution to this is difficult BUT achievable. As battery size is expected to decrease, this becomes a much easier problem to solve.
And lastly, there has been no industry acceptance of electric vehicles. A number of commercially available EVs are considered “compliance cars”, built to comply with state laws and to satisfy the growing public demand for more green vehicles. If EVs are to take a hold in today’s auto industry, the modular exchange system is the logical choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Got questions? We have answers.
How much money can be saved in operating costs of an electric car compared with a gas car?
If we assume 10 year use, 20000 miles per year, gas at $4.00/gal, electric rate at 15c/KWh, and oil change at $40 per change each 5000 miles for the gas car,4 mi/KWh for the EV, and 30 mi/gal on the gas car, we get a 10 year cost of $29000 for the gas car, and $7500 for the EV. A 10 year savings of $22500, which can buy you a solar electric system that could make all your transportation costs free with zero carbon emission from power generation to the wheels!
So, I like your concept. But once you’re done with your cross country EV challenge what is next?
We will continue to work on the technology with our partners at UCSD, Carnegie-Mellon, and Berkeley. We hope it will inspire the funding agencies like DOE, NSF, and others to fund our work. All this work will be published and available to the public. We are open to talk with anyone who has a market interest in this technology. Any Kickstarter money raised above what we require for this trip will be used either at the Universities to fund students, equipment , and materials, or to promote this technology through private means.
I have to park my car on the street and cannot use my household electricity to charge an EV. Can this help?
YES! The idea would be to carry all or a few of the modules into the home to charge overnight. Granted, this is not that ideal, but will get more practical as batteries get smaller and lighter. Home electric rates will be much better than charging station rates, and home charging is much more convenient.
Aren’t electric vehicles just little toys with no real power?
Tesla has proven otherwise. There is no reason why even large trucks cannot be powered electrically. EV drag racers have been around for some time, and a modular battery approach makes scaling up to large battery Packs much easier. There are people who talk seriously about battery powered aircraft.
As battery technology keeps improving, won’t we be stuck with these “old technology” standardized modules?
No…the new technology can be used in the same physical module footprint and case to give more range. Older technology modules would eventually get purged from the system, and mixing could occur during that transition using our “balancing” technology. The whole concept is upward and downward compatible. An EV’s range will improve with time as the modules improve. Everyone will participate in the technology growth.
One can envision a possibility of having some limited number of module sizes.. maybe 2 or 3 to keep the inventory size reasonable, but giving some flexibility to the vehicle designers.
How would the battery module leasing work and how much would it cost?
The costs are not yet known. We are working with a group at Carnegie-Mellon that is looking into this very important and complex question. But it seems somewhat intuitive that a 3rd party module owner could use the efficiencies of large volumes to recycle, recharge, transport, and maintain a high quality inventory of these energy modules at a much lower cost than the car owner possibly could with their own battery pack. And if the car buyer is not buying the battery pack, the entry cost for a new EV will be dramatically lower….much lower than for a gas car.
How long does it take to charge up each Module used in your cross country trip?
It will take approximately 1 hour minimum to charge each Module…all Modules can be charged up in parallel, so the entire Pack will take about 1 hour after fully being depleted.
If this was commercialized, where would you go to get Modules exchanged?
There could be many options, but using convenience stores, auto parts stores, or big box stores along major routes would be one. Also Modules could be exchanged out of mobile trucks….kind of a “roach-coach refueling”. Tow trucks could carry Modules to rescue stranded drivers. Maybe even gas stations could carry these Modules.
Can you still charge your batteries at home in the car?
Yes in the car or out of the car. Also at charging stations. The control technology will be used whether discharging or charging the battery Modules.
Will these Modules cost more than the standard fixed large EV Pack?
The cost of the entire Pack using Modules will be very similar to a “fixed” large Pack. The Pack cost is primarily determined by the Cell cost anyways and this will be the same. There is a slight (around 10%) additional cost to the control electronics, but this would only represent a 1-2% cost increase to the total Pack. But we believe the costs of the Battery will be dramatically reduced due to standardization, volume, reusability, and 3rd party control.
And the user does not pay for the Battery anyways. We believe that the lease cost will not considerably change the cost of ownership of a vehicle…so this will be a win for the consumer, which is a much lower entry cost.
I don’t want to lease the Battery Pack….can I just own it myself?
There is no reason why a car owner could not outright own their Battery Modules….all or part or extras. They could own some and use them for spares or carry along for extra range. They could also swap them on a long trip and arrange to retrieve them on the return.
Will you use regenerative braking on your cross country trip?
No, we are using a DC series wound motor, and it is difficult to support regenerative braking. For a long freeway trip, regenerative braking is quite ineffective anyways.
How would you propose to start building up the exchange infrastructure and re-engineer the vehicles for Modular Exchange?
One way to start would be to work with organizations using a large number of fleet vehicles….delivery vehicles, large city governments, taxis, shuttle vans, etc. They could potentially afford a simple retrofit, and could invest in a small number of exchange stations in their operating area to maintain near zero vehicle downtime. The payback would be much lower operating costs, while doing their part to use cleaner transportation.
Automobile companies could get involved. One only needs to look at Tesla and their deployment of quite costly SuperCharging stations nationwide.