For round-town trips, there’s little that can compete with today’s modern electric cars. They are easy to drive, quiet, and cheap to run, making them ideal for 95 percent of everyday trips. But unless you have a longer-range electric car like the Tesla Model S, or a range-extended electric car like the Chevrolet Volt or BMW i3 REx, then long-distance trips — especially ones off the beaten track — can be something of a challenge, especially if there are no rapid charging stations along your route.
For some electric car owners however, the idea of using a range-extending gasoline or diesel engine is something of the antithesis to the whole idea of an electric car. While many electric car owners will happily use a range-extended electric vehicle or even rent a gasoline car for longer trips, many would prefer to simply add extra battery capacity to their vehicles to make a longer-distance trip more practical.
Which is where Nomadic Power, a German company with a prototype product called the MobileBattery comes in. Looking like a small camping trailer, the MobileBattery is part range-extending battery pack for long-distance electric car trips and part emergency backup power for your home. And thanks to a European Commission initiative designed to help new companies bring clever products to market, the firm has just received a €2 million ($2.25 million) grant to bring its vision to reality.
As the company detailed in an official statement last week, the award was made to the firm under the European Commission’s “Next Innovation Leader” program, a program which looks specifically for innovative ideas that have the potential with the right support to become flourishing businesses.
Of course, the idea of using a trailer filled with batteries isn’t exactly new to the world of electric cars. In fact, as far back as GM’s EV1, both automakers and enthusiasts alike experimented with various ideas for battery trailers which could be used to give an electric vehicle additional range as well as ‘generator trailers’ and ‘pusher trailers’.
As the name suggests, generator trailers were designed to add an additional power source — usually an efficient gasoline engine operating as a generator — to generate additional electricity to power an electric car on a long trip. Meanwhile, a pusher trailer was designed to literally help push the electric car along, usually using a small, air-cooled engine driving the trailer whees directly. (And if that sounds a little crazy, remember that one of the first people to perfect a pusher trailer was an electric vehicle enthusiast by the name of JB Straubel — who now happens to now be Tesla’s Cheif Technical Officer.)
But where Nomadic Power’s product differs from previous range-extending products for electric cars is its built-in energy management system. Packing an 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack inside a small teardrop trailer, the MobileBattery also features a fully integrated smart grid management system that can connect to Nomadic Power’s own secure platform via an on-board 4G Internet Connection.
When it is connected to an electric vehicle via a specially designed power harness, the MobileBattery feeds supplemental power to the vehicle’s on-board battery pack, thus slowing the rate at which the car’s on-board battery pack depletes and extending overall vehicle range. When connected to a car like a Nissan LEAF, Nomadic Power claims the MobileBattery can extend range from around 100 usable miles to more than 300 in ideal situations.
But when the MobileBattery isn’t needed for vehicular applications, the system can connect to the owner’s home allowing the battery bank to offer up to 85 kilowatt-hours of emergency back up power in the event of grid power disruption. It can also offer two-way grid connectivity if and when required, allowing owners to charge the battery pack during periods of low grid demand and then sell it back to the utility during periods of high demand.
Using the on-board telematics system, this can all be done automatically, with no input from the owner required.
So far so good — but we think it’s worth noting that so far, the only real-world demonstration vehicle we’ve seen using Nomadic Power’s system is a previous-generation (turn of the century) Renault Clio Electrique which functioned as the company’s prototype vehicle. It was built under the company’s former name of eBuggy and successfully completed various early stages of real-world testing and was initially designed for a slightly different use.
Under the eBuggy company name, trailers would be rented rather than owned by customers only on long-distance trips. Taking out a yearly membership — similar to joining a car-share club or charging network — would grant members access to a network of battery trailer swap stations, where customers could swap our depleted trailers for new ones on long-distance trips.
Here at Transport Evolved, we think the new energy model being offered by Nomadic Power is far more appealing to the average user, especially given the general reticence among customers to rent rather than own.
But we’re curious to see what you think. Is a range-extending battery pack for your car that doubles as a battery backup for your home something you’d buy? How much would you spend on it — and what sort of features would you want in a production model?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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