• Sep 17th 2009 at 2:57PM
  • 32
Renault Zero Emission line-up - Click for high-res image gallery

Among the many claimed advantages of electric vehicles are the ability to "refuel" your vehicles at home, never visiting a gas station again. In principle, the only thing you need to "fuel" an EV is a working plug. However, in life, few things ever turn out to be as simple as they might appear on the surface. For example think about your cell phone. If, like most of us here at ABG, you have had multiple different phones over the years, you have of course noted that every one of them seems to have a different and unique charging adapter along with a completely different battery.

In a small hand-held, pocketable device like a phone, it would seem that standardizing batteries and chargers would be a relatively simple thing to do and yet it has only been relatively recently that most phones have begun converging on mini-USB connector standard. Batteries, of course, are an entirely different matter. Now imagine expanding these problems by several orders of magnitude and applying electrification to a car. Cars live in a greater variety of environments and are expected to last a lot longer than the typical consumer electronics device (do you still have your phone from six years ago?). Read on after the jump to learn more about how the problem of charging is being addressed.

The first and most important element is the charging plug. Most EVs of the recent past, including most home-built conversions, have utilized standard household plugs. While this may seem an easy solution, it is actually quite complex. Most conversions are designed to charge at 110V, which is fine for cars that have limited capacity and lead acid batteries. As lithium batteries with higher capacities become more prevalent, they will need faster charging. As MINI E drivers learned earlier this year, 110V just isn't going to cut it.

All this means we need a charging solution that can handle 220V or more. There are multiple types of standard 220V plugs for devices like dryers, stoves, etc. None of these are designed for high numbers of insertion cycles. We've all experienced 110V devices like vacuum cleaners where the pins get bent and sockets get loose over time. This is not acceptable on a car where the car will typically be plugged and unplugged daily and often several times a day. The plug has to be able to withstand thousands of insertion cycles. Given that cars have to operate everywhere from deserts to extreme winter and jungles, environmental sealing is critical as well.

When GM built the EV1 in the 1990s it tried to address these issues by using a paddle with induction charging capability. For reasons that we will get to shortly, that approach is not being used for the new era of EVs. Instead, automakers have collaborated with suppliers through a Society of Automotive Engineers task force to produce a common connector under the J1772 standard (above).

This plug is designed to withstand at least 10,000 insertions/removals with seals that survive the life of the car. It also supports single phase charging at up to 240 V and 70 A. Perhaps most importantly, it also has support for vehicle to infrastructure communications. This is something that no previous connectors, including the EV1 paddle, supported.

Since affordable electric vehicles will have limited operating ranges for the foreseeable future, they are seen as being most useful in urban environments. The problem is that many people who live in urban environments don't necessarily have garages to park and plug in to. For that reason, many local governments – e.g., London, Santa Monica– are looking at building or already have built networks of curb-side charging stations. While cities can afford to offer some free charging today to EV drivers because they are few and far between, this situation won't continue. If EVs become prevalent, drivers will have to pay for electricity.

That's where the communication link comes into play. The comms link will allow the car to identify itself to the charger/grid so that the driver can be billed. Some companies, like Coulomb Technologies, are working on networks of charging stations and plan to offer subscription plans similar to mobile phone service to pay for charging. The communications system will facilitate this. Even when people are charging at home, the link will allow future smart meters to manage when a car is being charged so that drivers can get the lowest cost during off peak hours.

Most of the major automakers have committed to using the J1772 connector for charging (More info: how GM will use J1772 with the Chevy Volt). One thing these connectors don't support is 480 V charging. This higher voltage system is being proposed for quick charges with some types of batteries. To support this Nissan will actually equip its upcoming LEAF EV with two connectors, the J1772 and second one for 480V charging. However, before anyone can use this, special quick charge stations will have to be installed at places like businesses and, perhaps, existing gas stations.

The final possibility for the near- to mid-term is battery swapping. There are a variety of problems with this idea that will limit its utility any time soon. First is one of the same issues facing phones: proprietary battery packs. Because battery packs for cars are so large, automakers have to work hard to package them in a vehicle to limit intrusion on passenger space. They are often being incorporated into the structure of the car, making swapping them impossible. Finally, there is the same issue of the connectors that faces charging coupler. The battery connection, is designed for relatively few insertions.

All of these limit the utility of quick battery changing systems. So far, Better Place is the only company proposing such systems and Nissan-Renault is the only automaker that has shown any interest in supporting battery swapping. Other automakers cite the fact that battery technology is still evolving too quickly to commit to standard battery pack form factors along with the previously mentioned issues.

Looking farther out, researchers are still looking at inductive charging as well as mechanisms to recharge vehicles on the go, perhaps from cables or slots embedded in roadways. This however would require huge infrastructure investments and would create many new technical problems. Solar is another possibility, but it wouldn't be useful at night. Even during the day, solar cells don't have enough conversion efficiency to power a car with a panel small enough to fit on a car.

Any way you look at it, it appears we will be living in interesting times in the coming years.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      As I stated already once - IMHO the only way to see a worldwide major adoption of EVs, is via 15min. quick charger at (gas etc.)-stations.
      We need aggressive R&D in battery technology. The final answer for storing fast and durable electrons at a reasonable expenditure is not given yet.. Unfortunately no Tesla-like genius around.

      Battery swapping is definitely impractical:
      -needs standard > but batteries are in an early development stage
      -batteries in EVs are obstructed, isolated, blocked by cooling systems, heavy wired
      -each EV holds the battery at and in a different way
      -its simply dangerous
      -imagine, swapping in wintertime an iced and salty car e.g. in Europe, löl

      The idea of swapping high voltage batteries is highly ludicrously.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually, there are many smart people working on this problem, and they've already achieved some results. The basic problem of slow charge times and discharge currents is limited ion mobility at the electrodes, and a number of different approaches to address that issue are being pursued. Right now I think a technique using a lithium-phosphate coating developed by MIT researchers this year has the best odds at quick commercialization because it doesn't require new materials and should be able to be integrated into existing production lines fairly easy.
      • 6 Years Ago
      To add to what Joeviocoe said:

      IMO, Lithium Ion cells behave very predictably, from new to cycled usage, and probably wont even need to keep track of charge cycles. Voltage levels and miles/charge can predict that the battery will have X miles left before Y% discharge. So a 150 mile range new battery degrades to 100 miles would then be taken out of circulation, all the while, the car allows you to go only 100 miles regardless before it tells you to go plug-in or swap. The user wouldn't know the difference in a 100 mile range EV with old or new battery. (same can be applied to power and aging, just like capacity).

      Remember Better Place won't sell you the battery (so EV are affordable), so you don't have to worry about buying new/used or swap, or worry about battery conditions, as long as you always have that 100miles after a full charge or swap. That's the beauty of battery swap: I don't own (or have to buy) the battery, so I don't care. Let BP worry about it, as long as I get my predictable 100 miles for $1 every time!

      Eventually, you may want to get off of their plans, and buy an out-of-circulation battery for deep discount. You can still charge in your good'ole garage outlet...but why?

        • 6 Years Ago
        You'd charge at a garage outlet because it would be cheaper and more convenient for everyday use than going out of your way to a battery swap joint. Even Project Better Place plans for charging being the most common refill option, with swapping being used only when speedy refill is desired.
      • 6 Years Ago
      As someone extremely interested in this, but not knowledgeable in electronics, I have two comments.

      First, charging stations for long trips make perfect sense. Yes, one has to stop more often than you would with gasoline on a good battery pack (the Tesla sedan can go 300 miles between charges). But for most of us that isn't a huge problem as long as the charging times are less than ten minutes. On the face of it, that makes much more sense than a transferable battery pack.

      Second, the up front cost of batteries is a real issue for most of us. That has to be dealt with. Two options come to mind to solve this. 1) Batteries are leased to drivers separately from the car and are prorated for the presumed life of the car or the term of the loan or 2) The auto manufacturers buy electricity in bulk from a new electricity exchange and then sell it to their car buyers for an upcharge that will over time pay for the battery pack.

      • 6 Years Ago
      They battery recharge system is much better than that of the battery swap system. This is because the cost of infrastructure of recharges require a tiny footprint - they can put up along the side of the street. Also battery ranges become bigger and bigger so the need to swap become less and less, imagine a battery that can go 1000 miles per charge, some people may not swap it for up to a month.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I said this in another post, but I'll repeat it here since it seems relevant:

        I don't think battery swaps make a lot of sense at the consumer level. They're certainly possible, but I don't think the relatively small increased utility (since individual consumers would only rarely need this service) is worth the infrastructure costs and the logistical headaches. Probably fast charging or an EREV is more cost effective.

        Battery swaps are a reasonable solution for vehicles like buses, taxis, postal trucks, etc. I.e., situations where you have a standardized fleet of vehicles that return to a central location.

        • 6 Years Ago
        With battery swapping, customers (and businesses) would have to worry about someone abusing the battery then returning it and abusing the next one they get. This would cause batteries to have shortened ranges, compared to non-abused batteries, and cause anti-battery (or, at the very least anti-swapping) advocates to speak very, very loudly.

        If you have the ability to charge a battery in a reasonable time frame from home, work, the mall or where ever you're taking your car (when charging is needed) then most people will take pretty good care of their batteries if that's what is getting them from point A to point B.

        Also, as Mark mentioned, batteries ranges are getting larger. At relatively the same time battery sizes are getting smaller. This means the same size battery that is currently 53 kWh will, in the hopefully near future, have a 100+ kWh capacity.
      • 5 Years Ago
      If I was going to buy an electric car (and I want to when they are available) I would choose one with a battery swap option. Why not have the additional flexibility? If nothing else at the end of the batteries life changing it would be easier than having to put the car in the shop like the current Tesla. I note that the new Tesla S will in fact have a swappable battery.
      I dont understand all the opposition to swappable batteries. Not every car and battery will be standardised. So what? When making a decision about what car to buy and the prices are about the same I will certainly go for the flexibility of a swappable option. If enough people make that decision then industry standards will develop. Some people will want to own the batteries, some people will be happier with the leasing model. I know I usually want to own my cell phone, but at the end of the day every time I need a new one, I end up on a plan because owning it outright doesn't make economic sense. The phone call rates end up paying for the phone. Electric car plans as proposed by better place will be similar, but some people still want to buy the phone outright - no problems there.

      There is a lot of uninformed comment on the battery swap stations regarding danger, ice, obstructions etc. The technology has been demonstrated and is safe and clean. Instead of imagining problems people should first do a bit of research about what has already been achieved. A lot of comments indicate that swapping batteries would just not be economic. These are just comments based on gut reactions. Why not ask the people that are in the process of setting up the business model why it works. What are thier calculations based on? Analysts from Deutsch bank certainly seem to think it will, as did a study from Berkley university. Better place itself asserts the batter swap portion of its business is only a small, but important part of the whole experience. Swap stations will not be used with anything like the frequency of a gas station as consumers will also fill up each night at home and fast charge at other outlets. When they are used, the dropped batteries can be recharged in about 20 minutes on fast chargers, so not a lot of stock in batteries is required to be kept (If each car takes two minutes to change a battery, then each drop robot would need only about 10 spare batteries. Some commentators fear that they may get a dud battery - the beauty of the better place model is that you dont own it. Turn around and spend two minutes swapping it out. Dud batteries are their problem. Different if you buy a lemon and have it in a car from which it cant easily be swapped. I know which option I would prefer. You have the choice to go the other way, but why would you?
      • 6 Years Ago
      The SAE J1772 committee has "A Level 3 (fast charge) working group has been created, chaired by Dave Francis of AeroVironment" for the higher ~400 voltages. I hope at least the car socket is the same even if the connecting plug and cable has to be beefier. (SAE J1772 is having a web meeting on September 22, Autoblog Green should crash it.)

      Battery swap is intriguing and Better Place may be able to find a sweet spot amongst: assuming the cost and durability issues of batteries, reduced EV cost through leasing batteries, tying spare batteries into the smart grid, delivering a fast recharge for 300+ mile trips, etc. But it's so much more complicated than just tossing a few extra battery packs in the trunk at a Charge'N'Go forr a long trip.

      Both the J1772 and the European Mennekes plug have an interlock pin to stop the car from running while it's charging. But that would interfere with towing a genset as a range-extender.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The 400+ volts is for a quick charge station, not for home use. The idea is that you are NOT at home, that's why you want a quick charge.
        • 6 Years Ago
        440 Volts! Many homes will have difficulty providing 220V, when you consider 1000's of older homes with 100 A service and homes that have maxed out electrical panels.

        And yes I know you can have a 220 v line w/100A service, but you'll likely need to decide whether you want to dry clothes or charge the battery and you should hope the refrigerator doesn't kick in.

        440V makes sense from a charging perspective but it creates other problems.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Any automaker that offers a "range extending trailer" will also have a special connector for it, probably at the rear where the trailer would be attached. The requirements for a removable range extender connection are quite different than for a charge connector, including start and stop signaling for the engine, turn signals, brake lights and backup lights, and of course power transfer.
        • 6 Years Ago
        LOL at the idea of the millions of idiots who can't drive a regular car properly suddenly forced to deal with towing a trailer anytime they go beyond a standard charge.

        How much bigger will future parking spaces have to be in order to accommodate all the people on road trips?

        /that's why an ICE range extender like Lotus has proposed makes so much sense
      • 6 Years Ago
      Isn't this post - in all it's negativism and pessimism - just proving what immense power the oil industry have over our society and the way we all have submitted to their dictates ?

      Think about it : you guys probably have lots of, say, Chryslers driving around in your neighbourhood, while I live in a place whith lots of Mercedeses. Everyone knows Mercedes-guys can't go to Chrysler-neighbourhoods to fill up their gastanks, and you Chrysler-guys can't go to Merc-hoods to fill up your Chryslers, right ?

      Think about it: why is that so ?
      Of course you have to have a special Chrysler-nozzle to fill-up a Chrysler, and a special Merc-nozzle to fill-up a Merc !

      This stupid post I am commenting, just shows you're so helplessly exposed to aboulicly let commercialism rule your lives, that
      ... which has lead to the climate crisis added the finance crisis, and the worst polluting continent in the world.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I watched the webcast of CARB's ZEV Symposium yesterday. Interesting to see all the considerations about electricity and charging that I've never even known about before.

      Also interesting was to see the charging costs and business model. Nissan presentation said 15,000 miles a year will cost $360, considering electricity is 11 cents kWh. Sounds good, but my electricity costs way more than that. And charging will increase my baseline use, so my entire bill will be higher every month. If I install a smart meter or time of day meter, then I need to include that cost (BMW said $2,500 excluding electrical upgrades.) If I want solar, there's another $25,000. Utilities suggest low-interest loans to pay for it, but not rebates. Rebates and incentives are for the cars, not the charging.

      Lots of talk about "convenience" and "emergency" chargers away from home, too. A 220/240v costs about $6300 to install. A 440v is about $15,000 to install. Plus 10% O&M to keep them running. (Daimler talked about sticky credit card readers and damaged cords.) A business is going to want to recoup their investment, plus the electricity is at a higher business rate.

      Taking all these factors into account, my math shows that the electricity to charge the car is more $$ per mile than gas at $3.50 a gallon. When I also figure that I'll need to charge daily or maybe a couple of times a day (like almost all the autos said), then it costs more and is less convenient than filling my car with fuel once a week.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It makes sense to have swap stations for the following reasons:
      1. The consumer is no longer concerned with battery capital cost, quality, technology, maintenance, or warrantee issues;
      2. Swapping is far faster and more convenient than charging (or even getting gas);
      3. For those who do not have garages in which to charge overnight, it is a necessity;
      4. Swap stations would allow for grid storage;
      5. Standardization of batteries allows for competition among battery makers, driving down EV costs;
      6. Swapping does away with the need for costly, unmanageable, and resource-intensive public charging.
      Indeed, there are no good reasons for OEMs to have car-specific batteries, and basic design issues like size, voltage, connectivity, and BMS communications should now be undergoing global standardization.

        • 6 Years Ago
        @ EV-1:
        Thanks for the kind words.

        @ DasBoese:
        1. Battery KWH need not necessarily effect the physical battery pack size.
        2. Electrical properties -- presumably, you mean voltage -- should indeed be standardized and doubtless will be standardized anyway for reasons of safety, connectivity, aftermarket and OEK manufacture of voltage-compatible components. To give a simple example, you don't want everyone to have to manufacture different wire sizes.
        3. Position in the car is basically irrelevant to swappability.
        4. Battery packs are amost certain to continue to be flat on the bottom -- and if not, a simple covering would provide for flat bottom aerodynamics.
        5. While I like integration, I believe battery packs will never be significantly stressed members as there is no advantage to be gained by this that is not better effected by vehicle engineering.
        6. There are no present breakthroughs anywhere near even approaching testing let alone product development let alone pilot manufacture let alone mass manufacture. (For example, both silion micro-wire and carbon nanotube concepts have only been tested at the "let's look at one under the microscope" level.) Even if there were true fast-charging, it does not negate any of the arguments I've presented for swap stations and in fact suggest the further difficulties with public charging: can you imagine the grid havoc if a couple dozen people suddenly starting charging at the same time on the left
        side of the street, each puling 440V @ 150A? "Pop Goes The Transformer" (sung to the melody of "Pop Goes The Weasel"). (Lastly: have you seen, or tried to pick up, the size of the cable that can carry 440V @ 150A?)

        • 6 Years Ago
        1. No, it doesn't necessarily, that's right. There are many other factors that can. Not that this has anything to do with my original point that the type and size of the car will influence the battery's capacity, size, chemistry, shape and position.
        2. Electrical properties in that context refers to voltage, max output current, max charging current, total energy stored and energy/power density (dictated by chemistry).
        3. It's very relevant. A central battery flat under the floor is considered ideal for swapping, but is not the ideal solution for every car. Point in case the Tesla roadster. Actually, shape is an even bigger issue here which you've conveniently ignored. May I just point to the Volt's and EV1's T-shaped batteries?
        4. True, an aerodynamic cover would solve this, but then you need it to either fold away into the car/ below and to the side of the battery bay or devise a mechanism to remove it before swapping. Neither is very desirable.
        5. Unfortunately I don't know about the iMIEV and other BEVs, but the Volt's battery is a structural element of the car. Most of them are based on gasoline cars though so I suppose their packs aren't load-bearing. Doing that, however, IS good vehicle engineering because it saves weight and increases rigidity.
        6. A lithium-phosphate anode coating that significantly improves charging and discharging by enabling better ion transport has recently been demonstrated by MIT researchers. Since no expensive materials or manufacturing techniques are needed, this will be incorporated into existing production facitlities within the next three years or so. The Si nanowire guys are into battery testing as well.
        As fast charging will be done at public charging stations, your "what if a dozen people plug in suddenly?" argument is irrelevant. Besides, it's not like things would be any different with swapping stations, which by design require a large battery inventory to be charged simultaneously.
        And yeah, a cable that size is heavy, but far from unliftable. A simple overhead suspension for the cable does away with that problem entirely.

        Thank you too, I rather enjoy this.
        • 6 Years Ago
        There are very good reasons for OEMs to have car-specific batteries.

        Most obviously, different types of cars require different batteries, i.e. size, electrical properties and position within the car. Surely a few standard formats could be introduced, but that will make the costs for swapping systems skyrocket, fast, while in the end automakers might still decide that the convenience of swapping is not worth sacrificing the efficiency and handling benefits of an integral battery optimized for the specific car.

        Secondly, since weight reduction is essential for EVs, using the battery as a stressed chassis member is a good idea. Aerodnamics are important too, demanding a smooth underbelly which is at odds with a swappable floor-mounted battery. Safety plays a role as well, an integral battery just isn't as suceptible to damage.

        Lastly, it looks like the latest developments in battery chemistry and manufacturing may well make swap stations obsolete due to vast improvements in charge times.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "1. Battery KWH need not necessarily effect the physical battery pack size. "
        Actually, it does! Unless you completely change the chemistry of the pack, Li-ion batteries all have similar KWH/weight and KWH/volume ratios.

        "voltage -- should indeed be standardized and doubtless will be standardized anyway for reasons of safety, connectivity, aftermarket and OEK manufacture of voltage-compatible components. To give a simple example, you don't want everyone to have to manufacture different wire sizes."

        wrong... small cars and SUV will need different voltages. Just have the standard charge wires made for the highest voltage 440v... That would also make it physically durable.

        "3. Position in the car is basically irrelevant to swappability."

        not even close... if swapping facilities are going to be able to swap as fast as a gas fillup, then they need to be ALL in the same place so that technicians are not fumbling with different loading equipment. Packs are heavier than people can be expected to lift.

        "4. Battery packs are almost certain to continue to be flat on the bottom -- and if not, a simple covering would provide for flat bottom aerodynamics."

        True fro the first part... but the second, so now the swapping facility has to deal with the cover too... you will be lucky if can get a swap in 30 minutes, no where near 5 minutes as they intend.

        5. *skipped*

        6. regarding advancements in charge time... you may have a point, charge times are usually limited somewhat by battery chemistry, so every 5 years you may have an increase which will not move fast enough for the amount of EVs that are coming soon.

        But advancements in charging locations/infrastructure WILL make swap stations obsolete much sooner.
        No car is driving more often then resting (except for long-haul trucks) which means that as soon as power is brought to garages, streets, and parking lots, even if you are apartment dwelling, you won't need to swap ever. And for long trips, a range-extending trailer is more feasible or a trip to your manufacturer's dealer will swap out your battery in about an hour.

        "Lastly: have you seen, or tried to pick up, the size of the cable that can carry 440V @ 150A?" --- that is 66 kw which would charge most packs in 30 minutes... and should never be carried more that a few feet and only in a garage. It still beats carrying 600 lbs of battery instead of just bringing power to where your car sleeps and being done with it. And since it sleeps 8 hours, no heavy cables are needed.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @jzj :

        Grreat Post !

        You're not from the USS of A, are you ?

        - - - - - - - - - - -

        The paranoid notion that one exchanged battery would be found "abused" - - - ( ? )
        ( just like people would hook up that battery pack to their electric oven, or what ? >>>
        the vehicles will of course have built-in limitations of any possible "abuse" ) - - - will, needless to say ( ... ? ... ), be eliminated by warranty. Will the battery pack even be removable at all by the customer ? The swapping station would have a locking utility
        (either mecanical or electronical or both) so no customer even would get close to tamper with the battery in any way. And self-diagnosis would indicate any defect battery before ever swapped into a vehicle.
        Gah !
        I've never seen so much perverted negstive thinking be voiced at one supposedly progressive web-site.

        - - - - - - - - -

        Thanks again "jzj"
      • 6 Years Ago
      All of this battery swapping becomes a moot point if EEStor is capable of delivering their EESU ultra capacitor battery later this. It can be recharged in just 2-3 minutes and can be recharged over 1 million times (never needs replacing). It will hold the charge for more than 3 years. It will cost a fraction of the price or weight of LiOn batteries.

      We should know by the end of December whether EEStor has something or not.

      • 6 Years Ago
      For battery swapping concerns of uneven battery usage.

      Since battery monitoring technology has come a long way... manufacturers can come up with a metric for analyzing the life reduction of a particular battery pack.


      User A and User B are going on two separate trips with swapped batteries.
      Both pay with mandatory credit cards (like renting a car).
      A travels farther than B.
      A drives normal while B abuses the battery.
      B is charged more than A because the computer readout when returning the battery shows the charge/discharge cycles on the road.

      The cost can directly reflect how much of the battery's life was lost.

      Also, when buyer purchase a used battery pack for swaps, the historical data of the battery usage assigns a "blue book value" depending on the life expectancy due to is use/abuse.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Somehow this article failed to touch on TEPCO/Mitsubishi/Subaru quick charging solution altogether.
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X