UC San Diego’s Team M-BEAM Announces First Cross-Country Electric Vehicle Trek Demonstrating New, Swappable Modular Battery Technology

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Fundraising Campaign Underway To Give Citizens A Voice and a Choice In the Way Electric Vehicles (EVs) Are Built, Charged & Used, Easing Range Anxiety While Expanding the EV’s Role In the Future of Energy Storage

M-Beam Vehicle Collage

M-BEAM's swappable battery system is designed to address the EV industry’s largest hurdles to widespread adoption: cost and range anxiety.

We’re embarking on this journey to remind consumers that they have a voice in how the EV industry develops

As America's 5th Annual National Drive Electric Week shifts into high gear, a grassroots initiative known as The M-BEAM Challenge is announcing the world’s first coast-to-coast electric vehicle (EV) trek to demonstrate the versatile, range-extending capabilities of its Modular Battery Exchange and Active Management (M-BEAM) swappable battery system, designed to address the industry’s largest hurdles to widespread EV adoption: cost and range anxiety.

Inventor Lou Shrinkle, UCSD engineering students and university advisors behind the endeavor – aka Team M-BEAM -- have launched a fundraising effort challenging the world to help take their concept mainstream while supporting their milestone journey, currently slated for November 2015.

M-BEAM offers EV owners an entirely new means of charging electric vehicles while on the road. Rather than wait in line at an official EV charging stations and enduring 45-minute to 4-hour waits as batteries are recharged, M-BEAM’s swappable battery solution allows EV drivers to pull into M-BEAM “exchange stations” – theoretically convenience or auto parts stores – and simply swap any number of portable battery modules for fully-charged ones, eliminating the range anxiety many EV drivers experience when traveling too far from home or running low on charge. The modules are anticipated to shrink from briefcase to a lighter, more portable shoebox-size in very short order.

Fast and Flexible

“We’ve taken this gigantic battery pack and diced it up into smaller, more manageable modules that the driver can extract and replace as needed,” said M-BEAM inventor and project founder Lou Shrinkle. “Small, replaceable batteries allow drivers to refuel quickly. When ready for a charge, the consumer simply extracts depleted battery modules, pays for one or more freshly-charged battery systems at the counter, slides them into the battery housing and the journey continues -- without frustrating wait times,” Shrinkle said.

It’s a distinct alternative to the networks of charging stations being developed across the nation. And it’s relevant to millions of people who may not know it yet. According to NASA, gas automobiles are now the largest net contributor to climate change pollution, belching about a pound of carbon dioxide on average per mile. Worse, over one billion new cars will be on the road in the next 10 years due to growth in China and India. If these new drivers are given the option of using EVs in lieu of gas guzzlers – and presented with the versatile charging/storage opportunities these EV batteries afford folks on or off the grid – this world becomes a collectively better place.

Public Charging Stations: A Flawed Concept.

Team M-BEAM contends today’s infrastructure and America’s evolving charging station model simply can’t support mass adoption of electric vehicles. Today, 50% of the country has no access to a garage, let alone 240-volt outlets, rendering electric cars impractical. And they say the amount of time it takes to administer a cost-effective, safe charge at today’s commercial EV stations is too slow for most people. They suggest pursuing alternatives like M-BEAM and standardizing its energy modules provides consumers a distinct choice that can easily co-exist with the country’s evolving public charging stations.

“Right now, government and industry are forcing public charging stations down our throats, misrepresenting them as the equivalent to gas stations for long distance EV travel. That is a seriously flawed idea,” observed Shrinkle.

To prove the viability of the M-BEAM alternative, Team M-BEAM has retrofitted a 2002 Volkswagen Golf for their November proof-of-concept journey. The coast-to-coast trip will exceed 2,400 miles, with M-BEAM’s sixteen 30-pound briefcase-sized modular battery systems delivering about 100-120 miles (around 26 kilowatt hours, or kWh) per charge. This translates into around twenty-two 3-to-5-minute stops to change out the batteries across the United States – a vast time savings over the typical 45-minute to 4-hour charge.

With a goal of $15,000, the Indiegogo fundraiser is designed to defray the costs for operating M-BEAM’s flagship vehicle (the VW retrofitted with M-BEAM’s swappable battery system), a sleeper vehicle, and a chase vehicle assigned to charge the replacement batteries and simulate the exchange station concept along the way. Money is also being raised to fund the team’s return trip to San Diego.

“We’re embarking on this journey to remind consumers that they have a voice in how the EV industry develops – and to encourage fellow engineers and entrepreneurs to take our idea to the next level,” said Shrinkle. "We are also providing some real hands-on experience for the students involved in this project. They're the ones who will need to fix this planet that my generation did a darn good job messing up."

While EVs qualify for a bevy of incentives – from federal tax credits to parking privileges, HOV freeway access and a bevy of state incentives – cost continues to be an inhibitor to widespread adoption.

Shrinkle, UCSD Professor of Control Systems Raymond de Callafon, and the UCSD PhD students working on Team M-BEAM believe a nix on the fixed battery concept native to EV manufacturing presents an opportunity to further lower costs.

“Imagine that you can now buy an electric vehicle without the battery. Keep them separate and simply lease the battery. As a result, the purchase price of the EV becomes around $10,000 cheaper, and the vehicle owner can enjoy the most advanced battery technology available,” observed UCSD’s de Callafon.

The Elon Musk Factor

M-BEAM takes the 90-second battery exchange concept introduced by technology innovator and EV icon Elon Musk in 2013 to a new level. Rather than swapping out fully-intact, enormously-heavy batteries at specially-designated service stations (the original Tesla Model S battery weighed in at a whopping 1,300 pounds(1), M-BEAM’s modular battery technology enables the independent exchange of spent batteries for fully-charged 30-pound briefcase-sized battery components. Shrinkle says future module weights could be much lower, as light as five to eight pounds each.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Why don’t you just start a company and try to sell this thing?’” mused Shrinkle. “At the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of engineers. We’re the little guys. We don’t have fancy lobbyists in Detroit and Washington. We don’t have unlimited funds. But we do think the folks there have their heads in the sand on this. For us, the ‘lobbyist’ advocating for this technology is this trip – the M-BEAM Challenge. And we hope to change some minds with it. We'll leave the fight on the future of EV charging for the marketplace to decide."

About the M-BEAM CHALLENGE: The M-BEAM Challenge is the world’s first coast-to-coast electric vehicle (EV) trek demonstrating the versatile, range-extending capabilities of the new Modular Battery Exchange and Active Management (M-BEAM) swappable battery system. A collaborative effort among San Diego inventor and engineer Lou Shrinkle, University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Jacobs School of Engineering and corporate sponsors, M-BEAM offers mind-seed capital to inspire new ideas about the way we use and charge electric vehicles – and the future of energy storage. Learn how to contribute to the M-BEAM challenge at http://www.modularexchange.com.

(1) From the biography “ELON MUSK: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” by
     Ashlee Vance.

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Terri Steele, M-BEAM
A UCSD Student Initiative
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Helmut Igel, M-BEAM
A UCSD Student Initiative
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M-BEAM Exchange ModelRecharging the batteries of M-BEAM's prototypical modular active exchange system is as easy as removing any quantity of spent battery modules and replacing them with freshly-charged ones.Not Everyone Can Charge At Home50% of US drivers do not have access to a garage -- or 240 volts for home charging solutions.M-BEAM Eliminates EV Charge Station Wait TimesM-BEAM is designed to save consumers from having to wait between 45 minutes and 4 hours for the typical EV charge while on the road.Swift, Convenient Battery ExchangeM-BEAM enables the swift exchange of spent, briefcase-sized battery components for fresh ones at service stations, auto parts, big box or convenience stores across the US.Battery IndependenceUCSD is collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University to address the complexities of how a battery exchange (leasing) program could work across the U.S. (Credit: Patty Shrinkle)Gasoline Vehicles Contribute to Climate ChangeAccording to NASA, gas automobiles are now the largest net contributor to climate change pollution, belching a pound of CO2 per average mile driven.Team MBEAM: PhD and Undergrad EngineersThe M-Beam Challenge gives UCSD mechanical and electrical engineering students hands-on experience in solving today's clean-tech challenges.From Gasoline to Clean MachineThis combustion engine was extracted from a 2002 VW Golf to prepare for M-BEAM's historic, all-electric cross-country voyage.Tesla-inspired Innovation.Elon Musk debuted Tesla's idea of full battery swap technology in 2013, inspiring M-BEAM's modular battery exchange improvements.Future M-Beam ApplicationsIn the future, solar-charged M-BEAM battery packs could provide home power back-up *and* charge electric bikes, jet skis, lawnmowers and a host of appliances.World's First XCCThe M-BEAM Challenge delivers the world's first cross-country EV trek using modular battery technology. Contribute now on Indiegogo.$25 buys a piece of historyBe a part of EV history. Those contributing $25 or more to The M-BEAM Challenge on Indiegogo get their names inscribed on the vehicle making this historic voyage.