Last July, the Commercial Japan Partnership Technologies Corporation (CJPT) announced a partnership with Yamato Transport Co., Ltd. to start the commercialization of replaceable, rechargeable cartridge batteries initially for transporters in its fleet.
Today, the technology as it is being developed has brought with it several advantages, including an impact on cost and the reduction of vehicle downtime. The Yamato-CJPT consortium is part of a national energy management strategy of major automakers in the country for achieving a carbon-neutral plan.
The use of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) in the Japanese transport scene is not new, but becoming very popular — especially for last mile delivery. However, the popularity and growth of this EV segment poses several challenges — the most pressing is the long recharging time, which is painfully slower than refueling conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles.
This long recharging time leads to increased logistics downtime (when vehicles and cargo are at a standstill) due to numerous vehicles recharging at or around the same time.
The introduction of commercial BEVs is also expected to impose an increasing burden on society as a whole, such as by increasing peak electricity demand at business sites due to concentrated recharging by numerous non-operating vehicles.
Yamato engineers point out that the technology for the cartridge battery itself is already available, but the battery-swapping schemes that will result are still under study, mostly for safety reasons. The solution of simply pulling out a battery and changing with another may have dire consequences if not properly done. Engineers want to assure protection against fire and mechanical issues (a secure fitment and protection from external damage).
Yamato Transport wants to build a complete green delivery eco-system in which the cartridge battery-based scheme is central. As it wants to include all its transport and delivery partners in the program, it envisions a community that promotes the use of green power.
According to the cartridge battery plan, by eliminating the gap between renewable energy generation peaks and the timing of recharging commercial BEVs, the utilization of both the vehicles and the batteries will be much more efficient. Since the planned charging ratio is to come mostly from solar and wind energy sources, creating a steady supply of batteries that charge when there is sunlight and that can be used through the night or the next day is important.
The company also intends to study ways to increase the resilience of electric energy supply communities, such as by delivering cartridge batteries in times of disaster.
The replaceable battery scheme can cut the cost of BEVs. By reducing the number of batteries needed in a vehicle — for example, city driving versus long highway driving — the impact to the initial purchase cost will be significant. Since the technology can limit battery capacity (which in turn impacts longevity) by reducing the number of cartridges based on matching actual driving-range needs, the purchase price can be lower and additional cartridges can be purchased as requirements increase. This same model can be applied to a battery subscription service wherein added batteries can be leased when needed.
Consortium partner engineers also theorize that with the pull-out batteries there will be lesser burden on recharging infrastructure. Charging can be done in one place and delivered to specific sites where vehicles can do swaps. This also means less downtime as it reduces transport vehicles’ recharging time.
Finally, the scheme greatly increases charging efficiency as replacement batteries can be recharged while vehicles are in operation, reducing peak electricity demand.
The most important point for this program is that the cartridge batteries to be developed should be brand-agnostic, meaning the batteries will fit all vehicles. This standardization is critical to the success of the project. A successful example of this system is Taiwan’s Gogoro. With over half-a-million subscribers, Gogoro’s battery swapping station has many swap-and-recharge kiosks that uses batteries that will fit almost every kind of EV motorcycle there.
Thus, the boost for this system will be the standardization and commercialization of cartridge batteries, which the consortium is already working on. By making common cartridge batteries and recharging systems for vehicles ranging from BEV mini-commercial vans to BEV light-duty trucks, the costs of operation will be reduced and efficiencies enhanced. For the moment the cartridge battery solution will be focused on commercial vehicle applications.
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