Swappable EV batteries are on the Horizon

Seven major EV problems

Electric vehicles are not expected to reduce CO 2 emissions due to seven major problems.

  • Over the lifetime of a car, EVs are more expensive than gas-powered cars.
  • Fast-charging station are in danger of losing money.
  • Rare earth materials could become rarer and costlier.
  • It can be inconvenient to wait for the charger.
  • Some drivers experience anxiety about charging and range.
  • CO 2 is released when coal or natural gas is burned to produce electricity.
  • CO 2 is released when rare earth materials are mined and batteries are manufactured.

This article will explain why a standard swappable battery can help resolve these problems.

What about swappable batteries?

Batteries are defined by mechanical and electrical standards around the world. These batteries can power many devices at low costs.

Theoretically, one could create a standard car battery which looks like the Tesla battery but is used by many automobile manufacturers. The standard would specify the mechanical (e.g. height, width, and length), electrical connections, as well as communication between car and battery.

Currently, EVs are equipped with proprietary batteries that are periodically recharged. A standard plug-in, which is the same for all cars, could be used. The battery can then be swapped in under a minute. The car owner would be charged for the electricity used and the wear on their EV battery. They would also be charged less if they use cheaper batteries. At key locations, cavities would be excavated and a system that charges, stores and swaps would then be inserted. The cars would then swap over the mechanism.

Lower-range batteries use fewer rare Earth materials, resulting in cost reductions. Lower-range batteries would be cheaper because they use less rare earth materials. (For example, a 20-kWh Lithium Iron Phosphate [LFP] battery costs less than a 60-kWh Nickel Manganese Cobalt [NMC]). On long trips, you could switch to a high-range battery that is more expensive or change it more frequently. The commoditization of batteries could reduce costs by swapping.

Install swap chambers with swappable batteries in the driveway of your home. As shown below, these batteries could be charged during the day by solar, used to power the home at night and then swapped with cars when needed.

The residential swap chambers that house EV batteries power the homes at night.

Swappable batteries aren’t a novel idea. Click to view a video that discusses the idea. See “swappable batteries” in ” How to Decarbonize Transport.”

Swappable downside

The idea of swapping sounds great, but it also has a dark underside:

  • Automakers would have to make a huge effort if they wanted to swap batteries. They’d also need new factories for these vehicles.
  • It would be very expensive to build many underground exchange chambers.
  • The swapping process is a “chicken-versus-egg” situation. Automakers may be reluctant without a large number of swap chambers and swap companies may be reluctant without dozens of swap cars. Swap chambers could be initially placed in car dealerships where drivers can visit before a trip to obtain a fast-charging, expensive, long-range battery. They could also rely on cheap, short-range batteries with slow charging that can be charged at home.

Next step: Small money

A government or foundation can spend tens and even hundreds of millions to develop and prototype an interchangeable battery system that is standardized to determine its technical and economic feasibility.

Reduce battery costs by fourfold with less range and faster fast charging

EVs provide a range of 300 miles and can be fast-charged in 30 minutes. If range requirements are reduced by twofold and the fast-charging rate is reduced by fourfold (e.g. a minimum two-hour charging time), battery costs could be reduced more than fourfold.

  • The 300-mile battery is made with NMC. LFP is approximately 3x cheaper due to 30% less cost per kilowatt hour and two times as many lifetime cycles (= 2 / [1-30 %]). LFP has a lower range per unit of weight and volume (e.g. 150-mile LFP as opposed to 300-mile NMC).
  • The thermal management system in the battery can be reduced by using slower fast charging.
  • Battery life is increased by slowing down the charging speed. This reduces costs.
  • Faster charging takes less expensive equipment. As an example, AC to DC converters which charge in 8 hours costs approximately 6x cheaper than converters which charge in 1 hour.
  • The power company will charge less for slower fast charging (e.g. 40-kW service is less expensive than 160-kW).

Now we will explore how a standard swappable battery can potentially help resolve the seven EV issues described earlier.

Over the course of a car’s lifetime, EVs are more expensive than gasoline cars

According to the table below, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory ( ), gas cars are $0.30 per mile while EVs with a 300-mile range cost $0.47 per mile. The cost includes the initial cost of the car, gasoline, electricity, and EV replacement batteries. Batteries have a lifespan of 100,000 miles or eight years. Cars last twice as long. The owner will likely have to purchase one battery replacement during the lifetime of the vehicle. These are expensive.

You may have read reports that claim EVs are cheaper than gas cars. However, they are usually based on “studies”, which “forget” the cost of replacing the battery. The EIA and NREL encourage professional economists to avoid bias because it reduces accuracy. They are asked to predict what is going to, not what wants to occur.

See ” Cost of Cars and CO ” for more information.

Swappable batteries can reduce EV cost in several ways.

  • Most cars do not drive more than 45 miles per day. On many days they can use batteries with a low range (e.g. 100 miles), and charge them at night. On long trips, the batteries could be more expensive and longer range or they could swap them more frequently.
  • EV owners may replace their batteries when the capacity of their battery has decreased by 20% to 35%. The swappable battery could last longer as it can be replaced with a smaller capacity when the battery gets older. The driver would not be able to tell the difference between a new 150-kWh battery and an old 300-kWh battery that has degraded by 50%. Both batteries would be displayed in the system at 150 kWh. The cost of batteries decreases by twofold when the battery lasts twice as long.

Fast-charging stations could lose money

What percentage of time do you think a fast charging station is used? In most cases, it’s not very much. It is due to the inconvenience of charging, the high cost, charging at home and a lack of EVs. Low utilization can lead to station costs exceeding revenue. In this situation, stations may support their losses by using government money or investing money, but these “remedies’ are not sustainable. Station costs are high because of the high price of fast-charging technology and high power service. In order to charge a battery of 50 kWh in 20 minutes, you need 150 kW grid power (150 kW * [20/60]). It is approximately the same power consumption as 120 homes. The grid equipment required to support this amount is expensive (the average U.S. household consumes 1.2kW).

Many fast-charging station do not have grid power and therefore cannot charge multiple vehicles at once. The result is a cascade of events that includes slower charging, lower customer satisfaction, reduced station usage, increased cost per customer and less profit for the station.

Fast charging is more likely in a city where there are many EVs, and the parking is mostly on the street. Fast-charging stations located in rural and suburban areas often risk losing money.

See this video from Kyle Conner for a case study on rural stations. He examines a station connected to 37 kW on a rural highway and discusses the technical and economic challenges it faces.

Swappable batteries reduce fast-charging-station economic viability risk for the following reasons:

  • Battery swap chambers that are underground can charge batteries more slowly. This reduces the required power for charging and lowers costs.
  • When renewable energy sources are saturated or electricity is cheaper, batteries in swap chambers allow you to draw power during the night.

Rare earth materials could become rarer and costlier

In 2021, approximately 7,000,000 electric vehicles were produced worldwide. If the production of EVs was doubled and continued for 18 years, they could replace 1.5 billion gasoline vehicles in the world and reduce carbon emissions (7 million x18 years x12). EVs use rare materials such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt. It is unclear what the impact of a dramatic increase in consumption would be on their price.

The price of EV batteries typically drops from one year to the next. This did not occur in 2022 because of material shortages. Rare Earth materials could become scarcer, which would lead to higher prices for batteries.

Swapable batteries can reduce the dependence on rare earth materials as they are compatible with lower-range technologies (e.g. LFP batteries don’t use cobalt).

It can be inconvenient to wait for the charger to charge

Swapping batteries is quick and reduces refueling times.

Some drivers experience anxiety about charging and range.

Swapping would be simple if there were many extra batteries and swap chambers in the system.

CO 2 is released when natural gas is used to generate electricity

Grids are often powered by a variety of sources. At any time, for example, a city could receive up to 20% of its power from nuclear power. Another 7% might come from wind power and another 3% may come from solar power. The remaining 70% would be generated by natural gas-based power plants. Solar farms generate electricity in sunny weather, wind farms when it’s windy. Other sources are less intermittent.

At least one source of power on the grid is increased when you charge an EV. Due to various factors, including cost, it is common for only one power source to participate. The output of a solar farm will not change as the sun sets it and electricity is usually already consumed. If the solar farm has reached “saturation”, it can increase its output rather than discarding. One could also charge an electric vehicle at a source that emits no CO or 2.

Swapable batteries can reduce CO 2 from electricity production, since batteries could be charged even when renewables are saturated.

CO 2 is released when rare earth materials are mined or batteries are manufactured

Swapable batteries can reduce CO 2 emissions by using smaller batteries with fewer rare earth materials.

Transportation is a $30 Trillion Problem

If there were to be 1.5 billion gas cars in the world and they were all replaced by EVs at a cost per vehicle of $20,000, then the total cost (1.5 billion times $20,000) would be $30 trillion. R&D costs would be justified if this could be reduced by 10%, via hundreds of millions of dollars in additional R&D. Transport is a $30 trillion dollar problem. We must act accordingly. Start by looking at machines that automate underground infrastructure installation. Here are a few examples. See ” How To Decarbonize Transport” for details.

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