Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, February 17, 2007

  Railroad delivery of electric car vehicle batteries

Whew. I read this whole thread on slashdot.org http://science.slashdot.org/science/07/02/17/1912213.shtml without someone suggesting we swap out batteries in electric vehicles (EV). I grew worried. Finally - the LAST post - had something on it. Then I had a great idea on railroads... read on:

Why is it that the average slashdot reader can envision charging systems requiring truly dangerous amounts of voltage/amperage... in order to get their charge in 5 minutes - but can't imagine a mechanical system that could swap out an EV's 1 ton battery pack in five minutes?

I'd be much happier with charging stations that charged up 1 ton battery packs overnight (and during the day to meet demand).

How much volume underneath the ground is currently occupied by fuel tanks that could instead be used for batteries, charging?

Ever notice how many service bays are shuttered across america these days? Ever see how fast someone can get a car on a lift and change a tire? I'd argue that a battery swap could take less than a minute with some automation.

Ever notice how fuel actually GETS to the service station? Those big tanker trucks, yes? Wouldn't it make sense to load up a truck with a bunch of batteries and take them to a central station to be recharged?

Heck - we could start using the railroads to distribute EV batteries! Drive up to a train terminal, with one train full of cars with fresh batteries and one empty car waiting for old batteries. Each stack of batteries on the railroad car would be on a spring + lift. You'd drive over the last railroad car, squat to deposit your dead battery, and get towed to the next car over for a new one just like in a carwash! Done, 5 minutes, tops - you'd never have to leave your car - and when the train has been emptied of fresh batteries it's equally full of drained batteries, so it can depart for it's charging station.

It might even be a good idea to include a car wash in the the process!

Better - as a train station becomes a "charging" station - it becomes a natural thing to actually use trains for more of your journey and park cars at the beginning or end of the trip.

Better - you don't even need to unload the train to charge up the batteries if you design the connectors right.

Wait - it gets even better. Nearly all the coal/oil fired power plants in the country have a train terminus hauling in tons of fuel every day to keep them running. How do the railroad cars exit the electric plant? Empty. A common figure for electricity loss over transmission lines is 60%. Why not also haul in spent batteries and haul out fresh ones via train? I imagine hauling several thousand tons of batteries, say, 50 miles, via train is probably pretty efficient (but I don't know).

And if you are nuclear - well, I'm going to look at google maps - but I'm willing to bet that most have a railroad nearby or terminating there - and the transport/recharge problem becomes even more efficient for nuclear.

In any of the "recharge at the power plant" cases, you can be running 24/7 - there is space available at the plant for the big charging facility -

All we need is:

A standard size for EV batteries. (several sizes is ok, but one to start would be a good idea). Everybody is designing a custom enclosure for their battery packs and that's not useful.

A standard foolproof way to latch them in place. Zillions of these exist. Standard ways to unlatch them (not zillions, though)

Good ways keep (and/or monitor) the batteries for damage. Most EV battery packs are already "smart" - and what's not smart now could be easily leveraged from the laptop battery industry.

Arguably SUV's as they stand higher off the road, are actually a better choice than the low-slung performance cars in this respect. Still, requiring an inch or two of padding below a battery pack ought to prove sufficient.

Various people competing to create ways to further automate the swap-out. Note: this country employees tens of thousands of gas station attendants that could just as easily be swapping out batteries on a lift.

--

Now - I'd get to the economic considerations of creating all this infrastructure - but that makes me throw my eyes up in pain. I'll argue that something like this will happen in some set of smaller countries long before it does here. There are a few positives, politically, I like, behind this proposed overall infrastructure - it makes more sense for more vested interests than at-home charging does.

Power generation companies would LOVE it. So would the railroads.
Existing service station owners have a non-gas upgrade path.
Car manufacturers - well - nothing seems to make them happy.
Battery manafacturers would love it - though a standard form factor might dissuade some - it would encourage others.

Minor losers would be in the gasoline industry. (easily compensated for by them going after pieces of the distribution network)

So, there you have it. A standard form factor for a swappable EV SUV battery solves everything. Now, get to it, people!


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