Project Better Place swaps car batteries to calm range anxiety

Consumer Reports News: April 08, 2009 03:03 PM

Project Better Place (PBP) claims it has a solution to electric car's "range anxiety." Instead of relying on recharging the batteries, which takes several hours even for a partial charge, they just change the batteries, just like you might in a flashlight.

Project Better Place has said it is working with Renault and Nissan to develop electric cars with swappable batteries that it will sell in Israel and Denmark. California electric carmaker Tesla has also said its new Model S willl be compatible with Project Better Place infrastructure.

At the New York International Auto Show, we had a chance to catch up with Jeff Curry, the marketing director for Project Better Place, and got more details on how the project will work.

Obviously batteries with enough juice to power cars are large and heavy. Curry said the system to change them will be automated. Drivers will pull into service stations into a bay like those at instant oil change places, with a pit below the car. An automated system will disconnect and remove the old battery from the bottom of the car and install a new one.

There are two key advantages of the system. It could be more affordable than other electric cars, because PBP will lease the batteries to consumers, rather than sell them. So the consumer will own the car, and pay a useage fee for the batteries. Since PBP will own the batteries, they will be able to resell the used batteries to other companies who can use them, such as power companies. In addition to lower costs, this approach will have the advantage for consumers of providing a continual supply of automotive batteries using the latest technologies for maximum range.

The batteries will also be able to be recharged in drivers’ homes at night, and the cars will be connect to the computerized “smart grid” power network that power companies are now rolling out. In Israel, the impetus for the project is a government mandate to end oil imports by 2018. Denmark has imposed sales taxes on gas cars of 160 percent, Curry says, helping accelerate the adoption of electrified transportation.

Currry, who is based in California, says the company is studying emerging interest in electric cars in the United States. Looking around the show, we can see automakers have keen interest in bringing electricity to cars as a primary or secondary source.

--Eric Evarts

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