Service charge

US startup Ample tackles EV charging anxiety with improved battery swap service

Levi Tillemann is Ample’s Vice President for Policy and International Outreach. Credit: Ample

Streamlining the electric vehicle (EV) charging process is critical to the adoption of the new energy car. American company Ample is tackling the idea with battery swap technologies. By offering an efficient service such as refueling, the startup is increasing its deployment in America, Japan and Spain.

Founded in 2014 by Khaled Hassounah and John de Souza, Ample only sneaked out in March 2021. It quickly rose to unicorn status after a $160 million Series C funding round in August.

The company has worked with several OEMs and has deployed battery swap stations in the Bay Area of ​​California, where it is based. It will later go to other major cities in the United States, such as New York, as well as internationally, starting with Spain and Japan.

Standardized batteries that adapt to all models of electric vehicles

The EV battery exchange service is booming in China. Levi Tillemann, Ample’s vice president for international policy and outreach, said that compared to technologies widely used in China, Ample’s batteries are modular, making them smaller and lighter.

As a result, the company can build much smaller, more cost-effective facilities with lower-cost robotics to handle and charge the batteries. It can also install the batteries in different car geometries like Legos.

Tillemann said Ample has applied its technology to more than a dozen models. It only builds bespoke adapter plates that fit each car’s design and stay with the vehicle. Modular batteries can be rearranged to fit any model. Standardized batteries also benefit the operation of the exchange network.

“You don’t have to worry about having many different battery types stored at different charging stations in a city or having an inventory of multiple battery types at a battery swap station,” said Tillemann.

Ample’s modular batteries are smaller and lighter. Credit: Ample

Targeting fleets to gain a foothold

Ample has partnered with Uber and Sally, a Long Island-based electric vehicle rental company. It targets fleets to establish a presence in the immature battery swap market and will eventually enter the consumer sector.

Regulations around the world are accelerating the electrification of fleets. However, Tillemann said there aren’t many sensible solutions for fleet managers. For example, installing and maintaining charging infrastructure is expensive. Additionally, managing the charging process is inconvenient and can have a significant impact on fleet operations. On the other hand, Ample’s automatic exchange service, which takes less than 10 minutes, would be more economical and suitable for fleets.

Additionally, focusing on fleets helps Ample scale its growth because the team would know exactly how many vehicles will be ordered and where they will be deployed, Tillemann said.

From a climate change standpoint, transitioning fleets to electric vehicles could electrify miles more efficiently. Fleet vehicles tend to have a much heavier duty cycle than privately driven cars.

Ample has deployed exchange stations in the California Bay Area.  Credit: Ample

Ample has deployed exchange stations in the California Bay Area. Credit: Ample

Battery swapping could increase the range of an electric vehicle

According to Fortune Business Insight, the global electric vehicle battery trade-in market is expected to grow from US$119.4 million in 2021 to US$641 million in 2028. The growth of the trade-in service is expected to encourage heated discussion on the comparison between recharge and exchange.

While arguing that the two technologies generally serve different customers, Tillemann said the exchange has several strengths. For example, drivers constantly have different or newer batteries in their electric vehicles when using exchange services. Ample continues to add new batteries to its system and removes from the shelves those that reach a certain degradation threshold.

Tillemann said the number of batteries and the amount of energy going into the same cells will continue to increase with the nature of battery innovation. Therefore, unlike charging, swapping could improve the range of an electric vehicle over time.

It can be disputed that the operation of the exchange stations is more expensive than the management of the charging facilities. Thus, the business model is less likely to succeed. However, Tillemann stressed that it is important to think about the cost of delivering each kilowatt-hour of electricity rather than just looking at installing the station. From this point of view, an exchange station will provide much more energy than a charging station of the same power. Due to the reduced size of battery modules, Ample addresses the cost challenge by being able to build simpler and cheaper stations.

On the other hand, the exchange can provide fleets with flexible energy usage. Tillemann said fleet managers can adjust the number of batteries in a vehicle at any time using modular battery swapping. For example, if a car only travels 50 miles a day, it may have batteries that provide a range of 80 miles instead of 250 miles. This capability allows fleets to provide the same amount of service with fewer batteries.

Bring Battery Exchange Service to Japan

Ample targets its charges at 10-20% less than the price of a gallon of gasoline, according to Tillemann. Additionally, the company wants to create an experience as smooth as refueling for customers. With this ideology, it’s only natural that Ample is collaborating with ENEOS Corporation, a Tokyo-based energy company, and its investor, to bring EV battery swapping to Japan.

However, the penetration rate of electric vehicles in Japan has been significantly lower than that of China, Europe and the United States. Will the situation hinder Ample’s expansion?

Tillemann, who has studied the US, Japanese and Chinese markets, said Japan has everything for automotive electrification. It was a global leader in the electric vehicle industry and installed the most DC fast chargers around 2010. But customers didn’t like the 45-minute wait for charging. Many of them did not have and still do not have garages to charge their EVs. Compared to recharging, refueling at a gas station is more appropriate.

Tillemann said swapping batteries would be similar to and possibly better than going to gas stations. Drivers don’t need to get out of the vehicle and search for the hoses. They simply arrive at the station and robotics takes care of the rest. The technology will alleviate the “charging anxiety” of drivers.

According to an announcement in 2021, Ample and ENEOS planned to begin initial rollout in Japan by March 2022, which would involve passenger and last-mile carriers. However, the launch was delayed by COVID-19. Japan has been closed to business travelers due to COVID-19 restrictions. Ample said it will align the service launch with the entry restriction.