Future cars may use replaceable batteries

July 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Two recently released studies reveal a growing hunger for electric cars. One of them, from UC Berkeley, concludes that the future of transportation lies in vehicles with replaceable batteries.

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One Palo Alto company has created the first "filling station" that swaps car batteries.

What killed the electric car? In large part, batteries. They are expensive, limited in lifetime, and difficult to dispose of. Now, a new report by UC Berkeley's Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology predicts that electrics would account for two-thirds of light vehicle sales if you and I could own the car without owning the battery.

That is the idea behind a Palo Alto startup called "Better Place."

The company's sustainable energy officer Sven Thesen explained it by saying, "What we do, as an electric mobility service provider, is in part own the battery. As a consumer, your cost is less and you don't need to worry about the battery."

In the same way that phones are connected to the communications grid through a service provider, Better Place proposes to connect cars to the electric grid as a "mobility" service provider, recharging them at the best time, for the best rate, with the cleanest energy.

"Imagine never having to go to the gas station again," said Thesen, "Never having to worry about an oil change."

You might object that plugging in and waiting for a charge is not as fast as putting in a nozzle at a pump and filling up with gasoline. But, what if you could simply swap out batteries in even less time?

The company's plans include a network of filling stations like one demo version in Japan that can switch low batteries for full ones in just 60 seconds. Add to that updating your batteries and recycling them for the life of the car.

Make no mistake, such a massive infrastructure is a major challenge that will take years. But, a new survey conducted by market-research company Ipsos for Better Place found that 1-in-3 Americans is interested in making their next car an electric one.

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