NIO drivers can now exchange an empty automotive battery for a full one in the power-swap station. The process takes no more than five minutes, from the moment the car arrives. The swapping process is fully automated and couldn’t be simpler. The driver parks the car within the lines outside the swapping installation and the vehicle is then autonomously reversed into it. Once in place, the car is lifted up and the 10 screws that secure the battery pack are robotically loosened so that the pack can be replaced. As soon as the new battery pack is installed and the on-board electronics reactivated, the car is automatically driven back out. The whole process takes less time than it would to refuel conventionally, while the driver can stay in the car and busy himself with other things.
14 million battery swap
“Worldwide, over 14 million such battery swaps have already been done,” says NIO’s Head of Power, Daniel de Groot. Since the brand started producing cars, back in 2018, it has opened a total of 1,200 swapping stations. And the brand’s plans are ambitious, to say the least: next year, the objective is to realise 120 power-swap stations throughout Europe. The next one to open will be in Apeldoorn, followed by, among others, stations in The Hague, Harmelen and Utrecht. “The power-swap stations are part of our overall charging network,” adds Keuter. “This comprises home charging (11 kW), public charging (10 to 80 per cent) in 30 minutes and the option to swap your battery in a NIO station. Whenever a battery is swapped at a power-swap station, it is done under the appropriate conditions and at an optimum temperature. What’s more, the quality of every swapped battery is also checked.” The latter ensures that potential problems can be flagged up in good time. And for the few instances that a battery is deemed to be faulty, NIO has its own repair centre. “Thanks to this concept, we can extend the life of a battery.”
‘The battery is NIO’s core business and includes much more than just the drive’
Battery as a service
NIO retains ownership of drive batteries that are being leased. “This is why it is important for us that batteries remain in tip-top condition for as long as possible,” continues Keuter. “The brand has now sold more than 270,000 cars worldwide, which means that their batteries constitutes an important asset for the company. By swapping batteries, different drivers make use of the same battery. Furthermore, the batteries in the swapping stations also contribute to the stability of the electricity grid. In times of energy surplus, resulting from a glut of solar and wind energy for example, by storing energy the batteries can act as a buffer. Compared to regular charging stations, the battery-swapping stations are also very efficient in their use of space. In a 24-hour period, up to 312 cars can be furnished with fresh battery packs.” In urban environments in which space is at a premium, this is indeed a big advantage.
“Here in the Netherlands, the recycling of end-of-life cars and car batteries is well organised,” concludes Keuter. “So it was a no-brainer for us to join ARN for the collection and recycling of our drive batteries. Good quality for acceptable costs is assured. That said, we do all that is in our power to postpone that recycling moment for as long as possible. Until a battery reaches the end of its useful life, we monitor its quality and do everything we can to extend its life.”
‘At ARN, we are assured that the collection and recycling of propulsion batteries is of good quality at acceptable costs’
The NIO brand was founded in 2014 by William Li and the production of fully electrically powered cars started in 2018. Lap records were set by NIO vehicles in Germany’s Nurbürgring in both 2016 and 2017, and from this year the brand is active in the Netherlands. Worldwide, the brand has sold more than 260,000 cars. And just like most car brands in the Netherlands, NIO has decided to delegate the collection and recycling of end-of-life drive batteries to ARN.
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