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Why EV Battery Swapping May Prove a Breakthrough in Transport Electrification

September 25, 2020 by Asma Arooj

Following the car manufacturer NIO’s deployment of its EV (electric vehicle) battery swapping stations over much of China, we consider the benefits of this promising alternative to traditional EV charging stations.

Design and Construction

A battery swapping station is an effective approach, as it quickly provides full power to electric vehicles (EVs), thus avoiding the long waiting times of the average battery charging station (especially as the average EV charging solution doesn’t offer fast charging).

Put simply, battery swapping stations enable a low-in-power EV to have its tired battery quickly taken out and exchanged with a fully charged replacement. Battery swapping stations have such a replacement battery charged before the electric vehicle is even present, and this means that it only takes a matter of minutes (often just three minutes) for the depleted battery to be removed and replaced.

A few of the major mechanisms in an EV battery swapping stations include the following:

  • A clamping mechanism that holds the electric vehicle safely in place while the whole process takes place.

  • A retrieval mechanism that locates the EV’s depleted battery and then inserts a new one into the vehicle.

  • A moving tray that keeps both the clamping and retrieval mechanisms secure, while also moving the vehicle in the various directions needed to accommodate the battery swapping process.


A battery swapping station, manufactured by NIO Power, prepares to swap the depleted battery of an electric vehicle. Image Credit: NIO Power.


Weighing up the Benefits of EV Battery Swapping Stations

EV owners can enjoy a selection of ways to charge their electric vehicle batteries. They can charge their EV batteries at home by using a regular domestic three-pin socket (which typically delivers around 7 kilowatts of power). EV chargers can also be found at some public places (such as parking centres), where they can provide up to 80% of charge for a long journey.

Despite the above benefits, charging an electric vehicle is a complicated process, particularly when you consider the various connectors, compatibility, and fluctuating rates of charge involved. Unsurprisingly, therefore, manufacturers such as NIO maintain that the process of battery swapping is quicker and more convenient than battery charging (again, even when you factor in rapid/fast-charging technology, which takes a minimum of 30 minutes, but often lasts much longer still). Accordingly, many on-the-clock EV drivers may benefit from the fact that NIO has already deployed battery swapping stations over much of China.

But while EV batteries can be safely swapped by the right machinery, it is still important to remember that they are nevertheless huge, heavy, and they each have a complex cooling system that runs at dangerously high voltages.

With the help of laser-guided tools, batteries can be removed and then replaced by a fully charged battery. Again, unlike EV charging (which, depending on the many variables, can range anywhere from half an hour to upwards of half a day), battery swapping can be done within three minutes. The process also extends the ‘shelf life’ of an electric vehicle, as it combats the problem of capacity fade: this is because old batteries with low charging capacities can also be taken out and reprocessed with the help of EV battery swapping.


A close-up of NIO’s electric vehicle battery swapping station. Image Credit: NIO Power.


Applications for Engineers

The reliance on electric vehicles—from car owners, manufacturers, governments, municipalities, investors and so on—is clearly recommended by engineers. Particular reasons for this include of course their ability to mitigate the environmental impact of fossil fuel-reliant transport.

Moreover, the compact, modular designs of both EVs and their battery swapping stations reduce the cost of real estate, because they require neither a large parking area nor a petrol station. By replacing the old with the new, battery swapping stations also make it easier to meet the strict demands of EV battery standards. And, as a result of the energy efficiency improvements that this brings, electricity costs are reduced.

Ultimately, battery swapping stations have what it takes to become a mainstay in vehicle electrification—particularly in China, where NIO has already made its mark. Indeed, battery swapping may set the stage for consumers and engineers to benefit from an affordable, future ecosystem that integrates more efficient electric vehicles, mobility, renewable energy, and storage. On a consumer level, this can benefit EV drivers by minimising the total cost of ownership. And on an industrial level, it can benefit engineers and manufactures by minimising the demands on battery design and maintenance.

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