The M-BEAM Project Wants To Bring Back Battery Swapping

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Project Better Place promised to bring battery swapping to the electric vehicle world, and while they technically did, the company didn’t last long enough to do much except scare other companies away from battery swapping. This scared many away from battery swapping, but UC San Diego researchers are developing a method that swaps out individual battery modules, rather than the whole battery itself.

Called the “Modular Battery Exchange and Active Management” (M-BEAM) system, researchers believe that it makes more sense to swap out smaller battery modules, rather than the entire battery pack. This would allow for a cheaper swapping station, with the ideal battery modules as small as a tissue box and weighing less than 10-lbs. Currently each module is about twice as large and heavy, but if they can reduce the dimensions, the researchers believe this could be a faster alternative to public charging systems.

The researchers plan to take a cross country trip in a modified Volkswagen Golf to test out their battery swapping method, with the hope of making it across America in less than 60 hours. That would beat the current 67 hour record set by a pair of Edmunds journalists driving a Tesla Model S and utilizing the Supercharger system. But like Better Place, this plan relies heavily on developing a large and costly national infrastructure to provide recharged battery modules to EV drivers, as well as a line of specialty EVs that utilize the technology.

Most EV charging happens at home too, and the growing number of EV charging stations is more a matter of convenience than a necessity for many commuters. With advances in fast charging allowing the Tesla Model S to be fully charged in less than an hour, even Elon Musk seems to have abandoned the idea of building battery swap stations.

Is there a place in the world for electric vehicles with swappable batteries, or is this one of those ideas that works better on paper than in practice?

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.