The battery modules work like Lego blocks and can be placed in any car.
The Nio story shows that swappable battery packs are not only feasible: they can be a fantastic solution to increase EV adoption. Customers would not have to worry about charging times or battery pack decay, for example. Sadly, Nio battery packs only fit Nio products. This is what Ample decided to solve with inspiration in Lego blocks.
What the American company has developed is a different concept for battery swapping. Instead of using a single, massive battery pack, it has divided it into battery modules that have all the same size. Ample does not talk about energy capacity or precisely how big they are. The company only told InsideEVs a module is about the same size as a shoebox.
What changes from vehicle to vehicle is the quantity of “shoeboxes” they can hold. According to Ample, a midsize car could use 16 to 20 modules. A compact EV could use about 10, and a large vehicle could take as many as 30 shoeboxes. Swapping all of them for charged modules takes around ten minutes, way less than any fast charging system delivers 100 percent of charge.
To adopt Ample’s swap system, an EV either has to be adapted to it or be manufactured with that in mind. Since the latter still has not happened, the company will make sure adapted EVs receive all the modules they can have – or “as optimal use of the space available for the battery as possible,” in its own words.
It also promised to offer “newer chemistries with higher energy density” whenever possible. That opens interesting possibilities for something Toroidion has already proposed: battery packs that work on lower and safer voltages.
Ample could have battery modules optimized for cold weather or any other applications EV drivers decide to be more useful at any given time. This is why Ample prefers not to talk about energy capacity right now: that can change. The battery modules will be leased from Ample, which should ensure customers always have the latest in technology available.
Although Ample will have to bear the battery modules' cost, the company may benefit from the very improvements it intends to give them. The leasing should include getting these modules replaced when the car needs a charge. If Ample finds ways to make that cheaper while billing customers the same amount, the savings go to the company, not to the customers. That’s the same principle Riversimple follows with its fuel-cell vehicles.
The hard part of the idea is to get automakers to support it. Luckily, Ample already works with “five of the world’s largest automakers,” and it would have prepared nine electric cars to receive the swappable battery modules so far. Although some EVs appear in the video and pictures in this article, Ample said it is not yet commenting on who these partners are.
On the other hand, the company is working with high-utilization fleets, focused on last-mile delivery, municipal fleets, and car-sharing fleets. The first one Ample announced is Uber. They will help it prepare for private customers and allow “anyone who wants to drive an electric car but doesn’t have access to overnight charging or wants access to fast recharging when they’re on the road.”
Just like Nio, Ample has movable swap stations that require only two parking spots anywhere to provide the service. According to the company, its biggest advantage is how fast it can create the necessary infrastructure.
Apart from offering electric car owners a more convenient way to get energy back in their vehicles, Ample charging stations can also work as megapacks wherever they are placed. According to the company, “having significant storage capacity available” allows it to provide “a service back to the grid in the form of grid demand management in general, but also emergency support in extreme situations.” That's another revenue source apart from leasing the battery modules.
The company could also place these swapping stations close to renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind generation. It could then store the energy that is not necessary when it is produced to be deployed when it is.
Ample stresses its goal is not to compete with charging station networks but to offer an alternative to “make a lateral transition to electric from gas with the same level of convenience, cost, and speed.” It is a very attractive proposition, both for automakers and customers. If it succeeds, we may finally have a world standard for battery swapping.