The future of transportation
Electric cars, trucks, and buses are being touted as the future of transportation, which they may very well be. Clean and efficient, they are being sold as the one answer to environmental concerns, and (sometime in the) future impending oil-shock, which they again may very well be. There are however legitimate concerns with mass-scale adoption of this technology. The battery technology, while very advanced, is still a work in progress. Long distance driving presents another challenge, with the absence of sufficient number of conveniently located charging stations – and the more remote the location, the larger the concern. Moreover, battery charging time, while getting shorter, is still longer than what many would prefer, especially when they would not want to spend too much time at an intermediate stop to charge their car battery, or wake up in the morning to realize they forgot to plug-in their vehicles overnight.
The solution, according to manufacturers and proponents of electric vehicles, is to press even harder on the pedal, so to say, and mass produce these vehicles to drive the cost of ownership down, which, if the history of oil is any indication of the future, will generate solutions for any and all challenges associated with the adoption of this technology.
Battery charging is inconvenient
This attitude is a very serious hinderance to a potentially much faster adoption of this technology because it overlooks the obvious – battery charging is inconvenient now for individuals, and will remain so for a vast number of people who buy such vehicles, and almost impossible for a significant number of those who can potentially buy them. Take the case of those living in apartment buildings in New York, London, New Delhi, Beijing, Mumbai, or Shanghai – which is where a big number of them live. These populations constitute the most lucrative market for reasonable priced cars. Access to overnight charging stations is simply not possible for a vast number of them – the logistic challenge is clear to anyone visiting residential parts of those cities. Or take a trucking company with many, many trucks, many of which may need to ply long distances, maybe day trips and back beyond city limits. Providing charging stations is not an easy task for them.
Replace the battery rather than recharging
The solution may perhaps lie in considering battery, and not electricity, as the fuel for these vehicles, and redesigning vehicles around this concept. In internal-combustion engine vehicles, one typically drives up to a fuel station and fills up the vehicle with petrol or diesel. The concept has straightforwardly been extended to electric vehicles – one, in principle, drives up to an electric charging station, and fills up the vehicle with electricity, so to speak. What may be a significantly more impactful technological leap may be the concept of replacing batteries instead of charging them, or in addition to charging them.
In one scenario, a vehicle may simply be driven to a roadside battery station, where its discharged battery is simply and quickly replaced by a fully charged battery, and is driven away. The discharged battery, in the meanwhile, is hooked to a battery charger, to get it ready for the next vehicle, in a pile with other batteries. So, in effect, in such a setup, someone buying an electric vehicle pays for the vehicle minus the battery. Currently, a vehicle owner owns the vehicle along with the battery.
This, or a similar concept, will make is possible for a significantly greater adoption of the technology. It will boost technological innovation on a big scale in vehicle design to accommodate replaceable batteries , and business process innovation on an unprecedented scale to cater to such vehicles. This will also allow to overcome the bar to electric vehicle ownership by those who face challenges with charging batteries, and those who may have some other concerns.
At the same time, this concept will be a massive impetus for a revolution in battery technology. Replaceable batteries will allow car companies to focus solely on manufacturing cars, and multiple battery companies to focus on manufacturing batteries – just like in present day internal combustion vehicles, vehicle companies manufacture vehicles, while oil and gas companies focus on their own products. The ensuing competition in battery manufacturing will boost efficiency, and bring down costs significantly, which will further increase ownership of electric vehicles.
this article first appeared on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/battery-recharge-amit-verma/