Forget Better Place: Simple Battery Swap Technology From Slovakia Proves Its Worth

In today’s modern world, it’s all too easy to be lulled into believing the notion that says the more complex, the more automated something is, the better. In the electric car world, specifically the world of battery swapping, fully autonomous battery swap systems like now bankrupt Israeli firm Better Place were often highlighted as the no-fuss way of getting an EV to travel a really long way without a drop of range anxiety.

Yet back in November last year a Slovakian company proved that battery swapping doesn’t always have to be high tech to be the best by breaking a world record for the furthest distance travelled by an electric vehicle in a 24-hour period. Covering 2,048.6 km (1272.9 miles) in just a single day, the five-person team smashed the previous record by  848.6 km (527.3 miles), swapping the van’s battery pack twelve times.

Battery swapping doesn't have to be complicated, as this Slovakian firm proves.

Battery swapping doesn’t have to be complicated, as this Slovakian firm proves.

Somehow, we missed the story completely back then — so now we think it’s time to give it the attention it deserves.

What’s more, the system used by GreenWay ProjectSlovakia is only a little slower than the fully-automated robotic battery swap made famous by Better Place yet uses the kind of technology you’d find in almost any warehouse worldwide: a manual stacker.

GreenWay’s vehicles are essentially converted Citroen vans, built by a company over the border in the neighbouring Czech Republis. Inside, they’re fitted with the latest on-board telematics technology, enabling fleet operators to know just how full each van’s battery pack is from a central base station. They can even communicate with the driver to let him or her know about route changes, local charging stations or weather conditions.

When it comes to charging, the GreenWay vans are fitted with CHAdeMO DC quick charge technology as well as AC Type 2 charging inlets, allowing them to charge at any public charging station, but the real key to their success lies in the foolproof, tech-proof solution GreenWay has devised to swap battery packs.

Because GreenWay focuses on commercial vehicles instead of the passenger cars used in Better Place’s fully autonomous system, the firm knows that its customers will not only be familiar with but fully trained in the use of pallet trucks, forklift trucks or manual stackers. Equipment which can not only help load cargo on and off the van, but load battery packs on and off too.

Thanks to a clever design where the van’s traction battery packs are stored behind the cab’s bulkhead on heavy-duty rails, a GreenWay operator can arrive at a battery swap station and simply use a manual stacker — which is like a pallet truck crossed with a fork lift truck — to lift out the depleted battery pack, replacing it with a newly-charged one. Since the battery packs are self-contained and connect to the van with a few simple connections, the whole process can take as little as 7 minutes.

Some of GreenWays’ clients — including a pharmaceutical delivery company — have covered astonishingly large distances in their leased vehicles in the past year.  One client claims they’ve covered more than 24,000 miles in a six month period, only possible due to the unique battery swap tech.

With a fork-lift -- or similar -- battery packs are simple to swap.

With a fork-lift — or similar — battery packs are simple to swap.

With swap stations costing far less to build and manage than the far more expensive and failed Better Place system, it looks like GreenWay’s low-tech battery swap solution will stick around for some time to come. What’s more, GreenWay is one of Slovakia’s first companies to fully embrace electric vehicles in a country known for its strict legislation on converting gasoline vehicles to electric.

As New-Zealender turned Slovakian resident and english-language journalist Gavin Shoebridge (aka KiwiEV) has told us in the past, Slovakia requires electric vehicle conversions to meet a whole string of almost impossible rules and requirements, including getting written permission from the company which originally made the vehicle you’re trying to convert, before it grants you a license.

The rules are so tough in fact, that GreenWay has circumnavigated them entirely by registering, taxing and insuring the vehicles in the nearby Czech Republic, where such conversions are allowed.

Yet like many pioneers, we suspect GreenWay’s successes — not to mention low running costs — will soon help Slovakian lawmakers see the benefit of changing the country’s laws to make life easier for one of its biggest green transport success stories.

Hat-tip: Gavin Shoebridge. 


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