Ashok Leyland announced a global partnership with SUN Mobility in July 2017 and it shaped further in the Auto Expo as a new technology – Battery Swapping. This partnership aims to create SMART Mobility solutions for SMART cities, with Ashok Leyland unveiling its first electric bus – Circuit-S – powered by SUN Mobility’s swappable Smart Battery. The two companies have come together, leveraging India’s innovation and engineering potential to develop a new electric mobility solution. The first of its kind technology demonstration, is an example of ‘Design in India’ and ‘Make in India’ capabilities of India. This simple solution is the answer to India’s rising e-mobility needs and global demand for smarter solutions for public transport.
In a move that is a transformation for the mass transportation system in India, the Circuit- S, India’s First Swap Battery Bus which is designed for Indian conditions with seating capacity ranging from 25 – 35 seats, runs on easily swappable, smart batteries that are small and 1/4th the weight of a regular Li-ion battery. In a first of its kind demonstration, Ashok Leyland and SUN Mobility showcased the “refueling/swapping” of its electric bus in under 3 minutes, which is faster than conventional refueling along with the swapping of bus drivers and conductors at a depot. This solution, thereby, addresses issues of convenience and quick recharging options that have long been stumbling blocks for the acceptance and viability of electric vehicles for public transportation.
This idea is basically is to change the way our public transport system works. The Circuit-S bus will cost lesser, would require minimal maintenance owing to lesser moving parts, will be lighter owing to smaller battery pack and most importantly, and obviously will have zero tailpipe emissions. This technology will be a solution and will be a biggest enabler for our STUs and the biggest contributor to our nation’s mobility vision of becoming 100% electric.
What is the Impact?
By separating the battery from the bus, for the first time, the upfront cost of the bus is drastically reduced to be at par with a traditional diesel bus. The bus is designed for Indian mass transport usage – a regular body of frame bus, as the compact and light form factor of the battery allows for more passenger space and standing room. The swappable technology is compatible across a variety of bus platforms and works on the pay-per-use model of battery consumption. This brings down the total cost of vehicle operations; both maintenance and energy.
SUN Mobility plans to build a network of Quick Interchange Stations that are easy to install and ensures quick refueling of busses to reduce down-time. The interchange station is customized for Indian conditions ensuring optimal use of real estate space for a range of vehicles to be swapped. These stations are compact and modular, allowing flexibility of shifting basis demand in a cost-effective manner. The Smart NetworkTM helps keep a constant check on the battery vitals, station operations and enables fleet management. This is similar to current fuel stations where in you go with your electric bus, swap with a new battery and then just drive out.
So is the technology so easy to implement or is it a path breaking technology? The answers are unfortunaltely negative at present situation. There is no single formal policy or standard or any kind draft regulations currently inplace for electric bsues. Every manufacturer is free to develop his own design of battery, charging stations, charging poles and every single accessory related with electric bus and charging stations. This makes the swapping technology not suitable for other manufacturers and again Ashok Leyland shall be responsible for entire eco system. But we understand there are work already going on to standardize the charging poles and will ensure this will be more a working solution. But we also foresee following are some major challenges currently
One of the first issues that battery swapping technology faces is battery design. Without going into the merits of the problems that have to be solved when disconnecting and reconnecting several times the power leads and cooling system equipment, the battery pack has to be designed in a specific way so as it can be easily and rapidly removed from the vehicle, and so rapidly re-attached. Ashok Leyland has done it, and they achieved better results. But other mannufacturers shall also need to look into the same way they make batteries
For a technology to succeed and become a dominant trend, one feature is absolutely essential: Cross Platform / Brand Compatibility. For battery swapping to ever have a chance at becoming a mainstream technology, interchangeable battery packs that are similar for various manufacturers must be found. This might sound a simple solution and easy to adapt, if there is willingness from the manufacturers. However it is not that simple.
Manufacturers design their vehicles based on proprietary designs. Using a standard format battery pack would limit the manufacturer’s flexibility and innovation. Also, there are several battery cell manufacturers and each bus manufacturer usually sides with a single supplier for his cells. Having a standard platform would mean that even the cell manufacturers will opt to manufacture similar cells, thus limiting product development and innovation.
The infrastructure required for the battery packs is immense and much more expensive than charging. First of all, all battery swapping stations must charge their battery packs – so they exert the same demand on the grid as in charging stations, with the only difference that the demand can be controlled, even though in practical terms, it is essential for all battery packs to be charged as rapidly as possible, so that they are available for the next customer. Second, they must have a number of battery packs that exceeds by a certain percentage than the daily requirement for each station.
This means that for every us there must be at least 2 battery packs – one inside the bus and another one available in a battery swapping station. This increases the costs of the vehicles tremendously, as it is a fact that the battery packs are the most expensive component in an EV. Also, cost of the battery swapping stations will be very high, and they have to cover the country well. When all is considered, the cost of setting up a nationwide battery swapping system versus a nationwide/ depotwide bus charging system is much more expensive, so eventually, less likely to happen.
4. Battery Degradation
Battery performance degrades over time, and as a result the range attainable with each charge. In a battery swap scenario, considering that all cars will be using the same battery pack format and power, we will find batteries with different energy storage capacities in the swapping station, mainly due to degradation. Logically, most people will opt for newer battery packs when swapping, as they give greater range and reduce the number of trips required to the swapping station. Lower capacity packs means that range with EVs will not be the same as with new packs, so users will not be happy when their new battery pack is swapped with a lower performance pack, as they will get less mileage from their vehicle. This will result in batteries having shorter operating cycles, as in order to keep customers happy, battery packs with reduced performance would be replaced faster.
Some companies are promoting non-rechargeable battery swapping technologies, which deliver very good performance and range, however each replacement means that the battery has to be recycled, a cost with is to be borne by the driver, and although it looks attractive in concept, its adoption by the market will probably never happen (except in highly specialized vehicles that are specifically designed for very particular uses).
5. Battery Ownership
A logical question is: In battery swapping who owns the battery? There are two ways to look at it:
- The vehicle owner owns the battery – this is the model adopted by Tesla in their battery swapping technology. All Model S vehicles are sold with their battery. When a user goes to a battery swapping station, his battery is removed, one from the charging station is installed on his vehicle and while he is on his way, his battery is recharged. Upon his return to the swapping station, the original battery is re-installed on the vehicle. The advantage of this method means that the owner of the vehicle is also the owner of the battery, and has access to other batteries when required to speed up his trips. However this system has several disadvantages. The first is that the owner has to go to the same location to pick up his original battery pack. Unless he comes back, it will stay in the charging station until its owner reclaims it.
- The vehicle owner does not own the battery – This scenario has major advantages over the previous scenario. Not owning the battery means that the EV price would be more accessible, and to the contrary of the battery owning scenario, once a battery is swapped, the driver doesn’t need to go back to retrieve it. This gives extreme flexibility. But even here there is also a downturn. Since the battery is not owned, each time a battery is swapped the vehicle owner will pay, in addition for the energy, also a lease on the battery. This lease can be either constant (a value per month) or with every battery swap. If the lease is monthly (or yearly), this means a higher cost of ownership of the vehicle as the lease amount must cover the cost of two battery packs (see point 3 above) and also the swapping station (whereas if the battery is owned and the vehicle is charged, only one battery pack is purchased). If the lease is paid on each swap, the price would be even higher (as the investment risk would be greater for the swapping station), which means that less swapping stations will be available and people will try to use swapping the lease possible to avoid the high charges, especially if the vehicles can be charged.
So said all these, we will still need to figure out the best possible solution for a STU. Here the Customer is same and he needs to purchase a bunch of batteries along with swapping stations. So the technology is emerging and we will need to wait and watch on other practical issues which may crop up.
With inputs from Mr.Johnton Gosh, CEO Silex Group.