Silicon Valley startup Ample is testing out a few battery swapping stations in California's Bay Area for fleet drivers.
The company says that its stations can swap out a vehicle's specially built battery modules and packs in 10 minutes.
Ample says that it's working with five automakers, without saying which ones, to build vehicles with battery structures that work with the company's battery-swapping stations.
One of the roadblocks to EV adoption is that charging an electric vehicle takes longer than refueling a vehicle with gasoline. Silicon Valley startup Ample believes it has figured out how to reclaim those lost moments: with its modular battery-swapping system that permits drivers to get fresh range in only a few minutes. The twist compared to many previous battery-swapping ideas is that instead of replacing one large single battery, the system instead replaces multiple smaller battery packs during a swap. It's hoping the ability to recharge an EV in just 10 minutes will appeal to fleets, and its first customers will be Uber drivers.
At its facility in San Francisco, a beta tester driving a Nissan Leaf pulls into one of several Ample battery-swapping stations peppered throughout the Bay Area. The station is roughly the size of two parking spots and tall enough to handle large SUVs and the coming wave of electric trucks. The Leaf driver gets out and, using Ample's smartphone app, initiates the swap procedure. Metal plates under the wheels lift up the Nissan from the floor, and an automated sled slides out from the front of the station. The sled removes a series of battery packs from under the vehicle. Within each container is a series of battery modules roughly the size of a bread box. After being detached from the Leaf, each container is whisked back into the hidden portion of the station where the modules are removed and placed on a shelf to begin charging. The system then places charged modules into the container. The sled then slides itself back under the Nissan Leaf, and replaces the packs that were removed.
The entire demonstration of the process took roughly 15 minutes, a beta-testing speed that Ample said is slower than it's capable of. As the beta progresses, that time will be shortened to 10 minutes, with a target to complete the entire procedure in five minutes by the end of the year.
This system is intended for fleet vehicles. While the average personal EV is likely to be charged at home overnight and is on the road for less than 100 miles a day, delivery vehicles, taxis, and vehicles used for ride-hailing services such as Uber need to be constantly on the road, and DC fast charging that takes upward of 45 minutes to replenish an EV's battery is lost revenue.
But creating a battery swap infrastructure requires partners in the automotive world. Ample's not in the business of swapping out factory-installed battery packs with their own system. The company will need to have automakers build special-purpose fleet vehicles set up to accept Ample's battery packs and be ready to start using the startup's system from day one. CEO Khaled Hassounah told Car and Driver that the startup is already working with "five of the 10 largest [automakers] in the world," without giving names.
Currently, the company is focusing on fleet vehicles and deploying its stations in additional Bay Area locations. Long term, it's investigating offering its service to the general public. If it catches on with automakers, the time spent waiting at a charging station to top up a vehicle's battery may come to an end as we replace cables with tiny robotic sleds whizzing around under our vehicles to get us back on the road.
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