|Better Place Battery Exchange Infrastructure|
Better Place GmbH, founded in 2007, is one of the Young Guns firms that received patents under the USPTO Green Tech program. Young Guns are new and emerging entrepreneurial firms that bring new business models, new products, and new ideas to market. On the innovation, invention, and intellectual property front, Young Guns are the firms to watch because these are likely to be the engines of new economic growth and new markets.
Better Place GmbH was awarded three patents under the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program. The patents provide insight into how this battery swapping infrastructure would work and the benefits of such an approach.
To be successful you need density in both the number of electric vehicles (or partially electric vehicles) and you need a network of battery swapping locations to facilitate travelers being able to get where they want to go. In the NY Times article, John Gartner of Pike Research noted that, "battery swapping is applicable in certain markets where you have higher fuel costs and smaller geographic profiles." Higher fuel costs are a factor only if it drives consumers to switch from traditional gas and diesel vehicles to hybrid and electrical vehicles.
Better Place's patents address the problem of how do you make this work on a large scale. You need a way to get the battery in and out of the vehicle faster and the vehicles need the infrastructure to support quick swaps so that it's easier to swap batteries than to plug the car (in one of those status symbol spots in the front) and stroll around Nordstrom for a couple of hours. Better Place takes a more pragmatic approach. It costs a lot of money and time to install all of these charging stations all over the place while the battery exchange infrastructure is more scalable, easier to implement, and more efficient to run. (They haven't address status parking in their inventions but we digress.)
Better Place proposes a model for electric vehicles of all types not just cars. While the commentary on the evolution of Better Place's business model address the consumer car market most often, fleet management organizations with multiple locations might find it an interesting approach to keeping their vehicles rolling.
Green Place received three patents under the Green Tech Pilot Program — 7993155, 8006793, and 8035341. (These three were granted through February 2012 - the original period of our analysis of the program.) The three patents provide insight into Better Place's innovations and how the proposed infrastructure might work. The patents cover inventions on how the batteries can be installed and removed from the vehicles; and the actual infrastructure itself. Better Place proposes a thoughtful approach from both a clean tech business model perspective and from an electrical infrastructure perspective. The patents are worth a read.
Here are some of the highlights of Better Place's approach from the three patents with our commentary. Claim 1 of each is also presented to give you a feel for their inventions.
Battery exchange stations are deployed to provide the EV (electric vehicle) user with the ability to keep his or her vehicle charged and available for use at all times by providing a system and method to quickly exchange, a spent depleted (or substantially discharged) battery pack for a fully charged (or substantially fully charged) battery pack at a battery exchange station. The quick exchange is performed in a period of time significantly less than that required to recharge a battery. they might require re-charging in a parking garage of a store or office building. Therefore, many charge stations may be required. To work, Better Place needs to offer a solution that is faster than the Nordstrom stroll or recharge in the car overnight in the garage model.
Batteries need to be recharged relatively often. For example As more and more vehicles use rechargeable fuel cells or batteries, more and more charge spots will be necessary. Connecting each charge spot to an electric power grid can be costly and time consuming. Furthermore, the deployment often requires an operator with specialized skills. Similarly, if the charge spot malfunctions or is vandalized, replacement of the charge spot is also costly, time consuming, and requires specialized operator skill.
The batteries may be treated as components of the electric recharge grid (ERG) infrastructure to be monetized over a long period of time, and not a part of the vehicle purchased by the consumer. You own the car but not the battery. Not unlike you own the car and buy the gas when you need it. The New York Times article notes that the current fee to Better Place battery swapping consumers is $350.00/month. This probably seems high here in the US where gas is around $4.15/gallon. In Israel, where gas is over $9.00/gallon it represents a better value proposition. The fixed, known vehicle operating cost of is an interesting business model.
It would be beneficial if there were a system that could quickly deploy more charge spots as demand grows. It would also be beneficial if the deployment did not require an operator with specialized skills. Furthermore, it would be beneficial if charge spots could be quickly and easily replaced when necessary. If you can swap out your bbq grill's propane tank while picking up beer and ice at the 7 Eleven, why can't you swap out your EV battery at the same time.
Some of the Technical Features on How the Swap Works
"Each infrastructure adapter comprises a power supply electrical interface and an adapter quick connect interface. The power supply electrical interface of the infrastructure adapter is coupled to a power supply. During a second stage one or more external units is installed. Each external unit comprises a car electrical connector, configured to temporarily electrically connect to and charge an at least partially electric vehicle. Each external unit also comprises an external unit quick connect interface, configured to removably mate to the adapter quick connect interface. An external unit quick connect interface of a respective external unit of the one or more external units is mated to an adapter quick connect interface of a respective infrastructure adapter of the one or more infrastructure adapters. In some embodiments, the mating forming a high voltage electrical connection between the external unit quick connect interface and the adapter quick connect interface. In some embodiments, the mating occurs in under 5 minutes. In some embodiments the mating occurs with no additional wiring required."
The advantages of the Better Place approach are significant. Because the infrastructure of deployment can vary drastically from region to region (e.g. there are different deployment practices and local regulations in different countries), deploying charge spots as entire units would require developing units specific to the infrastructure in which they are deployed. However, according to the Better Place inventions, only the relatively simple infrastructure adapter needs to be specially designed to comport with the infrastructure.(Only the connector needs to change in lay person speak.) Then the more complicated external device can be a standard component that will easily mate with any infrastructure adapter.
The external units can be mass produced to cut down on manufacturing costs. The interfaces between the infrastructure adapter and the external unit are easy to plug into mate together interfaces. They do not require wiring to connect to each other. "A relatively un-skilled operator can deploy the external units, and need not use any particular tools save for a simple screwdriver to install an external unit onto an infrastructure adapter." Simplicity.
7993155 Claim 1:
1. An electrical connection system for a battery of an at least partially electric vehicle, the electrical connection system comprising:
a first electrical connector configured to permanently attach to an underside of an at least partially electric vehicle;
a second electrical connector configured to permanently attach to a battery, wherein the first and second electrical connectors are configured to be removably coupled to each other, along an axis substantially perpendicular to the underside of the at least partially electric vehicle;
wherein each of the first and second electrical connectors further comprise:
a high voltage interface for transmitting high voltage electricity between the first and second electrical connectors;
a low voltage data interface for transmitting data carried on an electrical signal between the first and second electrical connectors; and
a shielding mechanism to counteract electromagnetic effects caused by the one or more high voltage connection elements.
8006793 Claim 1:
1. A battery bay configured to be disposed at an underside of an at least partially electric vehicle, the battery bay comprising:
a frame defining a cavity configured to at least partially receive a battery pack therein;
a latch comprising a hook configured to engage a striker coupled with the battery pack, the latch rotatably pivoted about an axis substantially parallel with a plane formed by the underside of the vehicle, the latch configured to retain the battery pack at least partially within the cavity;
a latch housing;
an input link including a first pivot point and a second pivot point, wherein the first pivot point is permanently attached to a torque bar which rotates with respect to a first portion of the latch housing;
a coupler link rod including a first rod end and a second rod end, wherein the first rod end is pivotably coupled to the second pivot point of the input link; and
the latch including a third pivot point and a fourth pivot point, wherein the third pivot point is pivotably coupled to the second rod end of the coupler link rod and the fourth pivot point is pivotably coupled to a second portion of the latch housing.
8035341 Claim 1:
1. A method of staged deployment of an electrical charge spot system for charging at least partially electric vehicles, comprising:
during a first stage:
installing one or more infrastructure adapters, each infrastructure adapter comprising a power supply electrical interface and an adapter quick connect interface;
coupling the power supply electrical interface of the infrastructure adapter to a power supply;
during a second stage:
installing one or more external units, each external unit comprising a car electrical connector, configured to temporarily electrically connect to and charge an at least partially electric vehicle, and an external unit quick connect interface, configured to removably mate to the adapter quick connect interface; and
mating an external unit quick connect interface of a respective external unit of the one or more external units to an adapter quick connect interface of a respective infrastructure adapter of the one or more infrastructure adapters.
You can learn more about the Young Guns who received patents under the USPTO Green Tech Program in Way Better Patents USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Discovery and Analysis Report.