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China's Battery Giant CATL is Launching a New EV Battery Swapping Service in Ten Cities

China's Battery Giant CATL is Launching a New EV Battery Swapping Service in Ten Cities

Author: Eric Walz   

Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) launched a battery swapping service for electric vehicles (EV) called "EVOGO" on Tuesday, which the company said would allow drivers to exchange their vehicle's batteries in about one minute.

CATL will start by setting up EV battery swap stations in ten cities in China. The service allows drivers to swap out up to three discharged battery modules for fully charged ones.

Users will be able to access the exchange service via a smartphone app, said Chen Weifeng, general manager of CATL's subsidiary Contemporary Amperex Energy Service Technology Ltd, said during an live streamed event.

However, completing the swap in minutes requires the vehicle to have a standardized battery layout that's compatible with the equipment that removes the discharged modules from underneath the vehicle. So CATL's swappable battery is designed to look like a bar of chocolate. CATL calls it the "Choco-SEB (swapping electric block)". 

A standard EVOGO battery swap station can house up to 48 Choco-SEBs and allows one-minute swapping for a single battery block, ensuring fully charged batteries are available for customers without long wait times. The design boasts the advantages of high-energy density with a compact size and minimalist design, according to CATL.

CATL says its Choco-SEB is compatible with 80% of the global battery-electric vehicles (BEV) available on the market, and all BEV platform-based models to be released in the next three years globally. Customers are free to exchange one to three battery blocks to meet different range requirements at swap stations, according to CATL. 

With the support of CATL's latest CTP (cell-to-pack) battery technology, each battery block offers a driving range of 200 km (124 miles). 

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CATL says its "Choco-SEB" is compatible with 80% of the global battery-electric vehicles (BEV) available on the market.

Chinese automaker FAW Group's Bestune NAT multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) will be the first car that the service will be compatible with, he said, adding that more models would be included in the future.

During his presentation, Chen said EVOGO aimed to address "the challenge of range anxiety, inconvenience of recharging and high purchasing and driving costs" for owners. 

"We consider the battery as a shared product, instead of a consumer product for personal use," he added.

Sharing standardized batteries among vehicles can result in more affordable EVs, which can help boost their adoption. The battery is one of the most expensive components in an EV, and is one of the reasons they cost so much more than internal combustion engine powered vehicles, despite having fewer mechanical parts. As a result, battery swapping technology is emerging as a more cost-effective option to spur EV adoption.

In Aug 2020, Tesla's Chinese rival NIO Inc launched a Battery-as-a-Service (BaaS) monthly subscription plan. The service allows owners to pay a monthly fee for the battery that's separate from the vehicle's purchase price. The BaaS plan is designed to lower the upfront purchase price of the vehicle.

The battery subscription plan offered by NIO helps to offset the cost of the battery pack upfront, which can add thousands of dollars to an EVs sticker price.

However, NIO also offers battery swapping services to its customers. Last year, NIO said it intends to build a comprehensive EV charging ecosystem for its electric vehicles, including outside of China. The initiative, called "NIO Power 2025", includes deploying 4,000 battery swapping stations globally by 2025.

NIO also offers a "battery exchange program" in China that allows customers to upgrade the battery in their vehicle for a small monthly fee. Customers that purchased a NIO model with a standard 70 or 75 kWh battery pack can upgrade to a more powerful and longer range 100 kWh battery by paying an additional 880 yuan (US$140) a month. 

For NIO customers that prefer to drive with the smaller battery, they will also be able to "downgrade" their vehicle battery packs from 100 kWh to 75 kWh.

NIO's 100 kWh battery pack has a NEDC range of 615 km (382 miles) and is available as an option on NIO vehicles. The 100kWh battery pack also features cell-to-pack (CTP) technology and was jointly developed with CATL. 

Chinese automakers Geely, which is the parent company of Sweden's Volvo Cars, also said in September that it aims to set up 5,000 battery swapping stations for electric vehicles globally by 2025. 

Startups are also working on battery swap technology for EVs.

San Francisco battery swapping startup Ample partnered with ride-hailing company Uber in 2021 to offer its services to drivers in the city. Ample's technology performs the battery swap process autonomously using robotics. The company says its modular battery swapping station is an alternative to long charging times, as well as having to find an available EV charger. 

Like CATL, Ample's modular battery swapping technology can work with any EV design, regardless of size, since it acts as a drop-in replacement for the vehicle's original battery. It works with popular EVs, including the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Bolt EV and Kia Niro.

As a part of Ample's collaboration with Uber, drivers in San Francisco can rent an EV with Ample's battery swapping hardware preinstalled, which allows Ample to quickly switch out the battery in a matter of minutes at one of Ample's swapping stations, which are about the size of a two standard parking spaces. This gives Uber drivers more availability to pick up riders instead of being grounded while waiting for their vehicle's battery to charge.

CATL is one of the world's biggest suppliers of batteries to the auto industry and supplies batteries to Tesla, Volkswagen and many other automakers. 

In December, CATL started phase 1 production at its new EV battery factory in China. Once completed, the plant will be the world's largest EV battery factory, with an annual production of 120 GWh. 

The plant will be more than three times the size of Tesla's gigafactory in Nevada.

CATL is investing 17 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) in the plant and said it will create about 10,000 jobs once fully operational.

The first phase of operations will have an annual capacity of 60 GWh and the additional 60 GWh for phase 2. The annual output of 120 GWh is enough to power around 1.2 million EVs. 

In September 2021, CATL announced a breakthrough in sodium-ion battery technology, which could extend range even further and eliminate the risk of fires associated with standard lithium-ion EV batteries. Low cost sodium-ion batteries could become a viable solution for the auto industry as its transitions to electrification. 

CATL's first generation sodium-ion batteries have high-energy density, fast-charging capability, excellent thermal stability, as well as excellent low-temperature performance, according to the company. In addition, sodium-ion batteries contain no lithium, cobalt or nickel.

In 2020, CATL announced it's ready to build an EV battery with an expected lifespan of 1.2 million miles or 16 years before it needs replacement. This type of long-life battery would be well suited for EV battery exchange applications.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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