Patent filing reveals possible mobile battery-swapping stations for Tesla vehicles

Article by Christian A., on September 21, 2017

Tesla Motors may soon revive its plans to offer battery swapping services using a new approach. This comes as the carmaker was discovered to have filed a patent months ago with the United States Patent & Trademark Office for a new technique in swapping batteries in its electric vehicles.

Unlike conventional vehicles or even fuel-cell units, electric cars -- like those offered by Tesla Motors – take at least 30 minutes through a supercharger to have their batteries charged considerably. A battery pack typically employs electrochemical cells to store and provide electricity to the vehicle system. Even Tesla admitted in its patent filing that the process of charging electrochemical cells usually takes some amount of time. On the other hand, refilling a conventional or a fuel cell vehicle takes at least five minutes.

To address such a gap between recharging and refilling times, Tesla had come up with an innovative yet simple solution – to swap the empty battery pack with a fully recharged unit. In concept, doing so would result to a fully recharged electric vehicle in a matter of minutes, instead of waiting for at least half an hour to recharge a battery pack up to 70 percent to 80 percent of its capacity. Tesla designed its vehicles so that an empty battery pack could be replaced with a completely charged one, thereby replenishing the vehicle’s power supply.

Tesla tried to offer battery swapping years ago, but it proved to be unpopular with customers. Tesla chief executive Elon Musk noted two years ago that customers preferred to charge their vehicles the usual way, with most doing so through Superchargers. After all, Superchargers are “free” as their costs are built into the price of Tesla’s vehicles.

Battery swapping might be unpopular, but Tesla seems to be not giving up on this concept. The carmaker might be thinking that soon enough, customers would see that battery swapping is more convenient than recharging their vehicles. The latest patent filing by Tesla with the USPTO – titled Battery Swapping System and Techniques and filed on May 30, 2017 – involves a battery swap system that includes: an exchange station to position an electric vehicle to desirable directions; a vehicle lift to raise the electric vehicle to a pre-set height; a lift to raise or lower the battery; and a conveyor to help facilitate the battery swap.

Interestingly, Tesla said in its patent filing that the battery swapping system could be installed on top of a trailer for increased mobility. This may allow Tesla to employ mobile battery swap stations, instead of those that were housed in a permanent structure. This means that Tesla could deploy these mobile battery swap stations to more suitable locations where customers could frequent.

This concept sounds interesting. While the patent filing doesn’t really mean Tesla will re-implement its battery swapping service, it does indicate that the carmaker is still toying with the idea.

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