Battery powered cars like the Tesla, Chevy Volt and the Toyota Prius have a major well known problem—the batteries don’t hold enough power for their weight. Even with quite a large percentage of these cars’ total body weight being occupied with batteries they have a limited range at highway speeds. However, this would not be a serious problem for most commuters if they could get a 40 mile range vehicle being charged at home every night. If people were willing to take public transportation for longer distances, that fully electric car would be all they need. When a large percentage of the current fleet of cars are electric there will develop a routine train based scheduled system for intercity hauling of these electric cars.
More powerful batteries are needed, but because so much money has already been spent trying to develop them, without spectacular success, it seems unlikely that any will soon be available that are twice as powerful per pound, and half the cost as the ones which already do exist. Furthermore the batteries already being used in these cars are very expensive, and the bigger they are the more expensive they become. There is an obvious solution to all of these problems which doesn’t require any scientific breakthroughs, and only some re-engineering of these types of cars.
Design the cars and batteries in such a way that the discharged batteries can be swapped out for a fully charged battery automatically in under a minute. This could be done by having a standard size battery weighing about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) inserted into a standard receptacle from beneath the car. The owner drives into the battery replacement station through the tire alignment guides and forward until the tire drops into the alignment detent. Various computer controlled verifications could now be performed to assure ownership of the vehicle and battery, and to check the alignment of the car with the battery replacement mechanism. The owner would remain in the vehicle to key in a password and other ID checks while the mechanical transfer operations of the battery are being performed. These ID precautions are necessary because the batteries being swapped are very expensive, worth several thousand dollars, and in an older car the batteries would be worth more than the rest of the car. The battery is held in place in its receptacle within the car with latches which can be flipped from locked to open position by the automated battery changing mechanism. When flipped to the open position the battery may be grabbed and shifted off of its safety restraining retainers, and lowered into the operating station beneath the car. Within this station this battery will be automatically put into a recharging receptacle and recharged. After this battery is recharged it will be ready to be put into another car. The replacement is done by lifting the battery into its proper position within the bottom of the car, and the various latches put into the locked position and verified. Once the various checks are performed the car can be driven away with a fully charged battery. The entire replacement cycle might be done in 15 seconds and the slowest part, the various human controlled verifications, might be sped up by RFID technology verifying the various transactions as the vehicle approached the charging station.
When at home or at some other slow charging station, for example at a parking lot, a similar approach might be taken where the vehicle is driven through some guides into a detente for the tire, to assure proper alignment, and flip a weight controlled switch which would then permit raising of an electrical recharging arm into a receptacle plug in the bottom of the car which could automatically use grid electricity to slow-charge the battery back up to a pre-programmed capacity level. Operating the battery in the mid range of its charge capacity level might be more efficient for routine driving, and put less stress on the battery thus lengthening its service life.
An inexpensive, small and reliable automatic recharging station could be made in a standardized way—when the left wheel of the car is driven forward onto a small platform an arm would rise into an electrical receptacle placed within a guiding funnel placed within the bottom of left front fender. These slow charge platforms could be strategically located in ones own home garage, and at parking lots where one typically is parked for some longer period of time. Even grocery stores might provide a free half hour of charging station for use during the half hour long stay while shopping, or if a monetary charge was needed it could be linked to their check our grocery payment.
An alternative is to offer the ability to automatically swap the whole battery into a receptacle in the bottom of the newly designed car shouldn’t add much to the overall price of the new car. The expense in this new system is in the battery swapping stations’ original construction. However, once a station was built it could operate automatically little, perhaps remote, human supervision, and the total five year operating cost might be well below a standard gasoline station which must be manned at all times. Security for an unmanned station could be maintained electronically with cameras and sensors. The batteries themselves are very expensive being nearly equal to the cost of the rest of the car, and therefore should be licensed, and come under the same legal protections against theft as do the whole automobiles at present. It might prove reasonable to build multiple RFID transponders into the batteries to prevent misappropriation and theft. These transponders would be automatically tracked whenever they passed a transponder station located along public highways thus if one were being misused it could be quickly found.
Once the above battery powered cars and the battery replacement stations were in place the total demand for foreign oil would drop to a fraction of our current usage. The electricity which replaces the power might come from what is called clean coal technology, and the United States is the world’s greatest possessor of recoverable coal. This changeover to these types of vehicles could happen quite rapidly if the one year cost of owning the new car of this design were dropped to the cost of a similar gasoline powered car, and the ten year total operating costs were comparable. One real advantage of this technology is that it is simple to implement because it requires nothing which isn’t easily manufactured with current techniques.