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Israel solves EV range limits, gives essentially unlimited range

David Hughes's picture

Israeli firm Better Place has delivered a major refueling breakthrough for all electric vehicles, essentially eliminating range limits on EV's with a robotic battery swapping station.

Based in Israel, tech start-up Better Place lives by the slogan 'acclerating the transition to sustainable transportation'. Key to furthering this goal has been proposing solutions to the biggest limit for all-electric vehicles: highly limited effective range. Nissan's Leaf, recently introduced in the United States, has a claimed range of 100 miles but industry testing has found 'real world' range more in the range of 70 miles. While this works for many daily commutes, it severely blunts the car's utility when even "fast" recharging is measure in hours, not minutes. Enter Better Place's EV support network.

Logical support elements such as a home based charging station provide charging solutions akin to what manufacturers currently offer, but Better Place expands that with a wide network of public charging stations activated by a member's RFID card. Where the company becomes revolutionary is its fully robotic battery swapping stations. With a network of at least 40 stations planned (and a working prototype pictured in the video below), the company uses a modular battery that can be removed by a robot and replaced with a fully-charged unit in approximately 3 minutes - triggered only by the member's card. The experience is described by the company as akin to entering an automatic car wash and is even easier than refueling a gasoline vehicle.

The technology is currently designed around Renault's Zero-Emission Fluence sedan, which as a battery pack easily accessible from below the car, something that few other EV's current possess. In fact, while auto makers typically try to place battery packs as low in the vehicle as they can to preserve a low center of gravity, they are rarely - if ever - put in such an exposed role. If battery swapping proves a successful business model, more vehicle designs could incorporate a battery similar to the Fluence Z.E.'s pack, but unless a set of standards is imposed, swapping stations would either have to be highly modular (recognizing individual EV models) or specific to certain cars.

While pricing is not available publicly at this date, and would likely fluctuate, it's clear the company recognizes the challenging nature of this brand-new business model. EV's themselves are finally looking commercially viable in contrast to failed experiments in the past, but Better Place has a unique proposal: rather than thinking of the battery as part of the vehicle, the battery's ownership is separated from the vehicle's. In effect, the battery pack is owned by the company, and rates for swapping are based on frequency of use (i.e., how many times do you swap a batter, does the customer actively charge at home to minimize swaps, etc.). The leasing program will aim for a flat fixed cost per month based on predicted distance driven.

The Fluence is launching in Israel and Denmark by the end of 2011, and Better Place aims to expand its Israel operations worldwide as EV's gain consumer acceptance. Watch the process below:

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