Swappable eBike Batteries? Why The Industry Won’t Make Them For Everyone [VIDEOS]
Ever since batteries were first developed for home appliances and toys we have been able to take them out and put fresh ones in.
Why not on electric bikes?
In this article we will look at a few swappable eBike battery systems and the reasons why most eBikes won’t have standardized batteries.
3 Companies With Swappable Batteries
A number of e-bike manufacturers around the world have swappable battery systems for their machines.
The battery systems are largely aimed at cycle couriers who do large mileages every day and benefit from that extra push from an electric motor on their bikes.
The rider will pay for either the conversion kit (in the case of Pushme) or a bike. They will then pay a subscription.
Ed Benjamin, Chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association explained to the Electric Bike Report, “Gogoro has one of the most nicely executed plans, and while I don’t have the figures at hand, I do know that the cost of the battery lease is based on how often you swap them.”
Pushme cyclists tend to join their scheme wherever the company has charging outlets. You need the charging infrastructure to make this system work.
In this case the courier may do 3-5 hours work and then drop into a café for a new battery, putting the used one back on the dock as they take the new one.
E-bike manufacturer Matra developed the ‘Bat’lib’ battery swapping system in 2012.
The Green Car Congress reported, “The Bat’Lib swapping station features ten battery charging ports and its small footprint minimizes space requirements. One port is always kept open to accept a new empty battery while the remaining ports can simultaneously charge nine batteries. The system can be limited to registered users through an RFID system. Upon arrival, the driver removes the empty battery from the vehicle, swipes the RFID card, and inserts the empty battery into the open port. Upon receiving the empty battery, the Bat’Lib immediately opens the door for one of the fully-charged batteries which is ready for immediate use.”
Looking around the web, this scheme never seems to have got off the ground.
A Push For Standardization
There are some interests outside of the e-bike industry who seem to want all bike batteries to be standardized.
The German company EnergyTube have developed a swappable battery system for a range of applications including e-bikes.
Their website argues that it could be cheaper for e-bike manufacturers to standardize their battery systems:
“Because the battery module must not be developed new at every time an unprecedented level of depth of development can be achieved what makes the battery system: safe, robust, affordable, reliable, durable, beautiful, compact, intelligent, flexible and user friendly. It covers therefore a tremendous need for our increasingly mobile society.”
For businesses outside of the e-bike industry, who may be keen to break into the fast growing e-bike making industry, there is some interest in standardizing batteries.
Consumers may think the same – ultimately we don’t want e-bikes to be very expensive and batteries are a major component of the price.
It May Make Sense To You But Not The E-Bike Makers
While from the outside it makes a lot of sense to have an industry standard, swappable battery for all e-bike users to use, it doesn’t make sense for the manufacturers themselves.
Mr Benjamin explained from the industry’s perspective: “It’s a good idea for the industry as a whole, and I think it is a very reasonable idea but individual manufacturers will say it is not in their interests. It would mean that the battery will just be a commodity that will be sold at the lowest possible price and they don’t like that very much! It doesn’t have much traction in the industry as a whole.”
While as consumers we are naturally after a lower cost power system and drive train for our e-bikes, the manufacturers think of their own bottom line rather than how to make cost savings for the consumer.
That is how competition occurs – an ongoing battle between consumers seeking a lower price and the makers (of any product) trying to make a profit at a certain price point.
Benjamin continued, “There may come a day when consumer pressure becomes so great that this will change but for the moment it is the brand managers who don’t see an advantage in having a battery that will work on other people’s bikes or a bike that will work with other people’s batteries.”
Will it happen? Mr Benjamin seems certain that no e-bike manufacturer will lead the way into e-bikes having a standardized swappable battery system – it will affect their bottom line and they would stop innovating in battery technology.
Though it makes sense from the overall perspective to have a standardized, swappable battery system, it could lead to a stagnation in innovation of battery technology.
– By Richard Schrubb
P.S. Don’t forget to join the Electric Bike Report community for updates from the electric bike world, plus ebike riding and maintenance tips.
Derek Kerton says
Seems the article should have also mentioned that:
1) Even if we all agreed we wanted a swappable battery system, we would immediately have dozens of pretenders to that throne, rendering the effort useless. One would need a standards body to choose and design the format, with many stakeholders attending, participating, and committing. This happens in industries all the time, like GSM phones or LTE. But it takes a looong time, and the resulting standard is NEVER the best technology, but rather a reasonable compromise. So the standard needs to compete against BETTER proprietary formats. With phones, it works because we absolutely NEED our phones to work with other phones and the network. But with batteries, we don’t.
2) Such a standard battery would be stuck in time, and would not be able to move quickly with technological progress. Until future revs of the standard…which come late and mean we no longer have a single standard, but v1, v2, somewhat defeating the purpose.
3) A standard battery limits bike makers in terms of design. But not just in one way, in three ways: visual design and appeal, battery technology and chemistry, battery size.
4) Some people want the cheap lead-acid batteries. Most today want Lithium ion. But there are other chemistry, each one different with different charge and discharge characteristics like energy density, life span, voltage, etc. It’s hard to force all bike makers or consumers to take just one type of technology. And that also would lock us in to one tech, and possibly prevent something better from emerging.
I just point out these factors. I’m not against a swappable option, I’m not happy that my 6 ebiles, two escooters, OneWheel all have their own packs that I must maintain separately, each with its own charger. I just think proprietary battery packs will be the majority of the market. But if we’re talking about standardized packs, why limit ourselves to bikes? I just got back from CES 2018, and saw a company demonstrating a line of environment-friendly yard maintenance tools (mower, trimmer, blower, etc) all powered by the same battery pack. Of course it would make sense to have the same standard battery power bikes and other items.
Lee Bell says
Personally, I would love to see batteries that could be swapped out but the cost of the lithium types is still to high for most people. I’m one of those that run lead acid pack on my recumbent trikes simply because I can’t afford lithium types.
It could be made to work though if the connector base for them is standardized. I agree with Derek above that soon there would be multiple versions but if the base is compatible that wouldn’t be so much of a problem in my view.
Those small batteries that look like water bottles won’t work as far as I’m concerned though. They don’t have enough amp hour capability for my needs.
Glen Aldridge says
One area that some bright spark will eventually jump on is to make standard batteries that not only power your E Bike but your home power tools, vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, snow blower, double as back up power at home in case the power goes out & for high power or longer operation they can all be piggy backed. Once this universal battery catches on all the other manufacturers of various types will have to get on board or be left behind.
David ONeill says
The battery in my Giant E Dirt bike already fits this idea of universal battery packs. I often wonder what else can this battery run… I’m thinking E trailer to follow Ebike & carry spare batteries. . Add a solar cell for remote charging……
Giant is big enough to make their battery the standard.
It’s not necessarily the bike manufacturers. It’s the system manufacturers who push their own format. Bike manufacturers have surprisingly little say on what companies like Bosch and Shimano put out. And those companies want batteries to only work with their systems. You’re not going to get Shimano and Bosch to agree upon a standard. Think of how not even all Shimano and SRAM parts work together…
Marty Bernstein says
I’ve a 2010 I.C.E. Trike to which I added a motor. It came with a 15 aH L-ion battery which at best gave me a range of about
35 miles, +\-. Wanting to go further faster i added 2 more batteries which I can swap out giving me a possible range of 90 +\- miles. This weekend I’m riding a 100 km century. So we’ll see if my assumption is justified.
I bought my wife a new ebike about 3yrs ago
At the same time I bought an extra battery for it because we bush camp in our motor home
And the extra battery extends our time between recharges .It works great for us
One battery died, so I ordered a replacement . Although for all intent and purpose the looked the same . the new battery would not power the bike it kept cutting-out
New battery was not compatible with the bikes battery controller
After some experimenting my supplier sent another battery , this at least works to about 90% of the original batteries . it’s a bit of between a rock and a hard place . Replace the controller ! the my original battery won’t work . Yet they are all meant to be the same batteries
I will live with it , because the Ebikes are just so much fun especially when we are travelling in our motorhome