Electric cars to get battery-swapping stations

California-based company Better Place held its first public demonstration of their newly-developed technology that can automatically swap the batteries of an electric car in less time than it takes to fill an SUV with gas.

Interestingly, the company also plans to have a recharging network set up in less than three years, starting in Israel, and then Denmark and Australia. The U.S. should eventually be in their plans soon.

The system uses a conveyor-belt shuttle system positioned in a pit beneath the car. Robots remove the drained battery, and then the shuttle moves along to position a new battery under the car, after which another robot installs it. Better Place says the process takes less than a minute as demonstrated on a Nissan crossover SUV.

Better Place wants to prove that electric vehicles are no longer the domain of green consumers driving small distances. This technology is supposed to be available to all motorists regardless of how far they drive.

A Better Place executive said drivers would only use the battery switching stations occasionally, as most would re-charge their cars daily via plug-in recharging outlets in homes, offices or shopping centers. “The average car is idle for about 22 hours a day, so there is plenty of opportunity for it to be charged,” he added.

The latest plug-in electric prototypes have a range of between 35 miles and 100 miles, but the firm expects that to have improved by the time the Better Place infrastructure is in place in 2012.

Better Place says they will use only renewable energy for its recharging network and claims to have interest from a number of providers. It plans to set up a charging plan similar to that of cellphones, where electric car owners can subscribe to a usage plan of their choice. While mobile phone providers charge for minutes, Better Place would charge for miles.

They predict that the cost per mile for electricity will be lower than gasoline.

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