The research project of the RWTH Aachen University and the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) is to determine the ecological effects and cycle properties as well as the social and economic aspects of various charging infrastructures.
“Batteries are made of valuable resources. It is therefore very important to use resources efficiently, keep the components in the system for a long time and return the raw materials after use by recycling, “explains energy expert Jan Wiesenthal from IÖW,” the market for electric vehicles will grow strongly in the coming years. Therefore, answers are now needed to the question of which battery system best meets the urgent goals of the energy and resource transition. Because it results in fundamental, directional decisions in the development of the charging infrastructure. “
Integrated batteries and charging network
According to Wiesenthal, continued use or reuse must be considered in all phases of battery life, and batteries must be properly designed during production. Today, there are almost exclusively electric vehicles with built-in batteries that need to be charged at charging stations. It has not yet been explained sufficiently how people in densely populated cities without their own wall box can find sufficient charging options. Or how dense the network of charging stations in rural areas must be to have enough charging options on the one hand and remain economically viable on the other. The fear of many drivers that the Stromer will not have sufficient coverage is especially clear in Germany. Concepts are also needed that protect the power grid from overload and can charge it intelligently.
Removable battery solution?
A replaceable battery has the advantage that it can be quickly removed and replaced with a charged battery. The charging time and the actual use of the vehicle can be separated from each other, thus relieving the load on the power grid. Replaceable batteries can also have a positive effect on resource efficiency, as their service life can be extended by controlled and gentle charging. Another advantage would be the decoupling of the vehicle’s service life from the electricity storage system.
Already in 2007, the first concepts of replaceable batteries appeared
However, the first attempts at such interchange stations were unsuccessful. The Israeli start-up Better Place was founded in 2007 by former SAP manager Shai Agassi. The company was a pioneer in the automatic replacement of batteries in electric cars. Renault designed the electric version of the Fluence compact sedan at the time for the battery replacement station. Better Place had to file for bankruptcy in 2013 because there was no interest in the exchange system. Even Tesla experimented with the technology by creating several pilot stations in California. However, the concept was discontinued due to a lack of customer interest.
China sets the standard
In June 2021, there were already 716 exchange offices in China. As early as April 2020, government agencies announced that electric cars above the price cap of 300,000 yuan (about $ 42,000) would no longer be eligible for the state’s bonus program. There are only exceptions for vehicles with replaceable batteries. In May 2020, the Chinese government included battery replacement stations in the “New Infrastructure Plan”. Almost all Chinese car makers are working to adapt their electric cars to a battery replacement system. Thanks to its market power, China is setting the industry standards.
Low interest in the stock exchange system in Europe
The largest manufacturers in Europe and the USA focus on fast charging. Car makers have as little interest in starting a battery replacement company as are energy companies, utilities, and mineral oil companies. In addition, charging times are getting shorter and faster charging is possible in less than 20 minutes. Vehicle platforms are not designed to be a swap system and the permanently installed energy storage contributes to the integral safety of many electric vehicles.
The study conducts open research
“For business and politics to be able to make these groundbreaking decisions, a scientifically grounded background knowledge must now be developed that shows how battery raw materials can be managed in the resource cycle and systems should be designed for it,” emphasizes Wiesenthal, “comparing and assessing in To this end, the “Circulating Battery” project with the close involvement of practitioners and taking into account social aspects, fully integrated and replaceable battery systems in terms of their ecological effects, resource intensity and cycle characteristics, as well as technical and economic feasibility.
What does it mean?
China’s state-owned market regulation agency unified the national standard for replacing batteries in electric vehicles with Chinese car makers. For Western car manufacturers, the battery is a differentiator from the competition, and the standard battery is not in sight. Whether the exchange system has a future in Europe is more than questionable. The interest of car companies is limited.