Courtesy of CATL

CATL And Didi Ramp Up Battery Swapping Plans In China

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Battery swapping is considered a joke in North America, but in China, it is a real and growing business model. Nio was one of the first companies to start building battery swapping stations in China. Last year it added 995 new ones, bringing  the total to 2,300. In all, it has completed more than 30 million battery swaps, including 430,000 in one week! It is also building battery swap stations in Norway.

Two years ago, CATL, the world’s largest battery manufacturer, introduced its EVOGO battery swap stations in China. According to CnEVPost, the CATL system consists of battery blocks, battery swap stations, and an app. The battery block, called Choco-SEB (swapping electric block) by CATL, is a mass produced battery developed specifically for shared battery swapping. (Choco refers to the fact that the battery packs look a little like a chocolate bar.) It uses CATL’s latest cell-to-pack technology and has an energy density of more than 160Wh/kg and a volumetric energy density of 325 Wh/l. The company says a single block can provide a range of about 200 kilometers.

The battery block can be adapted to 80% of the world’s battery-electric cars already on the market and those developed on dedicated EV platforms that are scheduled to come to market in the next 3 years. Each EVOGO battery swap station occupies three parking spaces and needs only about a minute to change a single battery block. The station can store up to 48 battery blocks, ensuring that users always have a fully charged battery block available without long waits. These battery swap stations are available in versions adapted to different regional climatic conditions, the company says.

CATL Teams Up With Didi For Battery Swapping

Electrive reports that CATL is pursuing a battery swapping partnership with Didi Chuxing, the largest ride hailing company in China. The battery make expects to leverage the technical advantages and operational capabilities of both companies, according to Chinese media sources. CATL also expects to advance service and technology standards through its association with Didi as well as improve resource utilization and social operation efficiency. Didi is “one of the most valuable application scenarios for battery swap services” thanks to its large customer base and the large number of recharging events needed to meet the needs of its drivers, CATL said on its WeChat account.

Didi Chuxing claimed it had roughly 84 million monthly active users in November of last year, according to Statista. Nikkei says it has nearly 600 million users globally and recorded 31.3 million transactions a day on average in the third quarter of 2023. Didi and CATL have not chosen a name for their joint venture or published performance targets for it yet.

Last year, CATL set  the monthly rental price per battery block at 399 yuan (€58) but said that amount would be dynamically adjusted depending on conditions of use. There was no mention of pricing in the announcement about the new business relationship with Didi or information about where the battery swapping stations would be built. To date, EVogo has only installed stations in Xiamen, Quanzhou, Hefei, Guiyang, and Fuzhou.

The focus on battery swapping is in line with national policies. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) reiterated its support for the technology at a conference held in late December, with pilot projects set to begin for public transport this year. In June, 2023, CATL also presented a battery swap solution for heavy duty electric trucks with Qiji Energy.

Why Battery Swapping Makes Sense

People in the US roll their eyes at the idea of battery swapping, but it actually makes a lot of sense for EV drivers. Range anxiety is a major factor in people’s decision to buy an electric car and so they pay for more battery than they will need most of the time.. The EVOGO battery swap service aims to solve that problem by allowing consumers to rent batteries based on their actual needs. Consumers can rent just one battery block for their daily driving scenarios or if they are traveling longer distances, they can choose two or three blocks, CATL says. Instead of swapping batteries, the blocks can be recharged using conventional charging equipment.

Then there is the issue of battery degradation and creeping obsolescence. People worry if they buy an electric car, they will get stuck with a big bill for a new battery at some point in the future. Urban legends are rife with stories of people getting whacked with a bill of $20,000 or more to replace a battery pack if it fails. Folks also fret about being stuck with a last generation battery when newer, lighter, cheaper, more powerful batteries come available. It’s a little like the anxiety that people who bought personal computers 20 years ago experienced, knowing their processor would be obsolete by the time they got their new PC home.

Battery swapping removes all those concerns from the shoulders of drivers. Their battery will always use the latest technology and if it fails, that will be someone else’s problem. They will never have to pay to replace a battery no matter how long they own their cars. It’s not always possible to put a price on intangibles, but peace of mind is a valuable commodity.

Another plus is, if you are driving further than normal, simply rent two or even three battery blocks. Then when you return to your normal driving routine, go back to the cheaper single battery block option and save money. It really is a very smart idea if there are enough battery swapping stations available and the price is reasonable.

A Full Battery In One Minute

People whine all the time about how long it takes to charge and EV (even though more than 80 percent of all charging takes place overnight at home when the cars aren’t being driven). Well, if a battery swap can take place in about a minute, there goes that objection!

Ample is trying to bring battery swapping to North America but faces a long uphill climb to get people to use their service. We wrote about one of their first swap stations eight months ago but have heard very little from the company since then. It seems American drivers and mainstream automakers are not very interested in the idea. One can only speculate whether the influx of Chinese cars into America that is surely coming in the years ahead will get Americans to warm up to the idea of battery swapping. It seems like an idea that would fit the needs of many drivers perfectly, especially if a leading corporation like CATL is promoting it and standing behind the technology.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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