Thursday, September 3, 2009

Battery Stations Instead of Gas Stations?

Imagine if instead of pulling into a gas station, you pulled into a battery station that quickly swapped out your nearly empty battery for a fully charged one?

Those stations are being created now in Israel, with plans in place for Denmark, Australia, California, Hawaii and Ontario, Canada. The initial demonstration proof-of-concept took place in Japan.

With the already available lithium-ion batteries, fully electric cars (or perhaps with a range-boosting generator added a la the Chevy Volt) would be practical, affordable, and much less polluting than a traditional car powered by an endless series of little gas explosions.

I love that solution. Cars give people freedom impossible to match using mass transit, even at mammoth cost. And even though it's unclear how manmade and controllable global warming is, certainly air quality would be improved and the world would be freed from having its behavior dictated by oil-producing countries such as Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia.

For more on this, see the report in today's Economist. And here's a link to a video that explains how the Israeli company, A Better Place, is planning to implement the idea.


Dave said...

I applaud the Israelis in this endeavor. We are tired of dealing with despicable regimes and overconfident Islam.

Let's keep our fingers crossed on this one.

Anonymous said...

Electric cars are far more poluting than internal combustion engines. Most of our electricity comes from coal fired power stations which are far less efficient that petrol/gas/diesel internal combustion engine, and for the same amount of kms, you will produce FAR more polution from coal fired electricity than from a modern internal combustion engine.

Of course this is not the case with nuclear generated electricity.

If we build nuclear power plants to generate the power, then this is a great idea - but we would need more power stations to be built either way - MANY more.

The electricity still has to come from somewhere

Marty Nemko said...

Good point, Anonymous. Thanks.

John said...

I'll disagree with the Economist. Batteries are not likely to improve a great deal. They will get cheaper, hold a charge longer, recharge faster, but the energy stored will not change a great deal.

I'll also disagree with Anonymous. Cars are only about 25% efficient vs something like 40% efficiency for large electric plants. I will agree that coal is quite polluting. Nuclear also has its problems. Enormous amounts of CO2 are released in the construction of a nuclear plant and in the mining and processing of the fuel. Not quite as bad a coal plant. Nuclear plants are also extraordinarily expensive as we are seeing in Toronto and Florida recently.

I'll also disagree with the plan for exchanging batteries. Their solution is fraught with difficulties. This might be a good solution for a fleet such as taxis or Fed Ex vans. Too many problems for general use. One is the speed at which storage technology is changing.

Sorry to be so negative. I do think that we will see more electric cars. My opinion is that we'll see a change in how people travel which will favor small city cars. It is still unclear how they will store energy. Li batteries have their good points. So do NiMHs. There is also some potential for super capacitors. I think it is too early to tell. Given how long it takes to bring a new technology to market I think the Toyota Prius will be the winning technology for several years to come.

Jim Meredith said...

The electric revolution in the auto industry offers huge, exciting and diverse opportunities for thinking, designing and planning in new and thoughtful ways.

I think that the notion of a "battery station" that replicates the planning principles of the gas station (as in this illustration), and by implication, the business model, is starting off wrongly.

Gas stations, with their paving of the landscape, disregard for community, garish architectural and graphic design, light pollution, store full of really bad body fuel and lottery machines, are representations of a defunct culture.

The new model must be thoughtfully executed and considerate of place, space, people, energy and environment if it is to have any authenticity. And, I expect, if designed in this way, may be an agent in the more rapid transformation of the market to an eventually cleaner and more sustainable technology and industry.

Anonymous said...

The efficiency calculation is a hard one. Something that struck me in the article was this:

"According to Bosch’s calculations, a conventional internal-combustion-engined car can travel 1.5-2.5km on a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy. A hybrid with a combined electric and diesel engine would go up to 3.2km. But a battery-powered car can travel 6.5km."

However, you generate electricity at point A and transmit it to point B, and you incur very large losses due to resistance as you transmit the power. I think the loss in transmission is around 30%, but I'm not sure.

Assuming it is, the electrics are still going twice as far per kwatt/hr as the gasoline is.

I don't know what the output of a coal-fired plant is per unit of energy in terms of mercury or CO2, but you'd need to know that to be sure how this would impact overall pollution load.

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