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Ample, a startup based out of San Francisco, has launched a charging network that can recharge an electric car in under 10 minutes. The company came out of stealth mode on Wednesday.
The company started the initiative through a partnership with Uber and is funded by over $70 million from private investors. The network currently charges Uber’s fleet of cars in San Francisco and is expected to hit the general market within a couple of years.
Ample has already deployed two stations that are in full use in San Francisco for Uber’s fleet and is working on deploying more stations in several other major cities in California. The startup hopes to ease much of the range-bound anxiety of driving an electric car by making charging stations as fast and readily available as gas stations.
Ample uses the world’s first modular battery-swapping system. The company’s CEO, Khaled Hassounah, says the modular battery swapping system operates like “Lego blocks.” The size of the car determines how many battery modules the car needs and the modules can adapt to fit any vehicle.
Unlike typical charging stations — which require the electric car to be plugged in and can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 12 hours — Ample’s charging stations remove the car’s batteries and replaces them with freshly charged ones. The depleted batteries are then placed on shelves at the station where they are recharged for future use.
The system is also entirely autonomous. Customers will pay using an app system and don’t even need to get out of the car to charge the electric vehicle, according to Hassounah. The station automatically detects the vehicle and goes to work.
Ample’s President John de Souza said the goal of the company is to make electric cars as accessible as possible. For many drivers, the decision to transition from a combustion engine to an electric car is not feasible due to the nuisance of long charging times and cars that cannot travel long distances without stopping to get recharged.
“Electric cars shouldn’t have to be subsidized by the government or come at a huge personal cost,” de Souza told Insider. “It has to be more convenient than gas so it becomes a no-brainer for people to say, ‘Why wouldn’t I switch?”
The startup charges Uber fleet drivers per mile and offers its services for 10-20% less than the cost of gas. Hassounah said the battery’s modular system allows the process to be simpler and ultimately cheaper. The entire set up also contributes to a cheaper price, as it can be constructed easily in a parking lot.
“We could deploy a whole city in a matter of weeks,” Hassounah told Insider.
The autonomous battery swapping stations can be easily put together or taken down as they come in their own structures that can be put together quickly in several large sections.
Battery swapping could increase the life span of an electric car
The swapped batteries will use the longest range technology available for each car to give drivers as many miles as possible between recharges.
Hassounah said the swapping system would also contribute to the longevity of the vehicle, as the car would no longer be constrained by a dying battery, but would be continually receiving the newest battery chemistries.
Most EV batteries are insured for at least 100,000 miles, but lithium-ion batteries often get shorter and shorter ranges as they go. A new electric car battery costs several thousands of dollars, for example a Nissan Leaf battery replacement costs about $5,500, while a Chevy Bolt replacement costs over $16,000, according to Car and Driver. Both cars have around a 250 mile range.
The company is not the first to employ battery swapping technology and it faces competition from at least six startups with similar strategies. In China — the leader in the electric car industry — the practice is much more common. Chinese manufacturer Nio has largely found success with the process in China.
Companies have struggled with the technology in the past
In 2013, Tesla CEO Elon Musk showed off battery swapping technology, only to reject the technology two years later in favor of focusing on the company’s Supercharging stations. Musk called the technology “too expensive.”
Another startup based out of Israel, Better Place, also invested in battery swapping technology. Investors in the company lost over $850 million as the idea fell flat.
The company was unable to find automakers willing to manufacture vehicles with its technology and it was not financially sustainable to make enough different kinds of batteries to fit each type of electric car in the market.
Hassounah said Ample has learned from Better Place’s mistakes. The company’s modular battery is cheaper than Tesla’s attempt and can fit any car unlike Better Place’s battery swapping method. Ample is also in the process of working with five major automakers, according to Hassounah.
The company is also approaching charging stations differently. Ample plans to use renewable energy sources to recharge the batteries. The company captures wind and solar energy when available and delivers it to the cars when needed.
“Moving to electric but still burning fossil fuels is not solving the problem,” Hassounah told Insider. “We save the absorbed energy, for peak times and plan to charge the vast majority if not all of it with renewable energy without increasing the cost.”
Ultimately, Hassounah said the company hopes to help get one billion electric cars on the road.
“It’s not battery swapping versus charging,” Hassounah told Insider. “We need all of the solutions. We are all aligned in finding different ways to solve the problem and modular battery swapping is just another way to solve the larger problem.”