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Battery Swap Model Takes Top Prize in Future of Transportation Student Competition

5/1/2015

​ALEXANDRIA, VA – A proposed battery swap model developed by University of Wisconsin students to increase the viability of electric vehicles was named the winner of the Fuels Institute’s inaugural Future of Transportation Case Competition at the Institute’s Spring Meeting in New Orleans.

The University of Wisconsin team’s proposal, “Electricity and Petroleum as Long-Distance Fuels,” focused on a unique 15-year, five-city initiative to develop a model battery swap retail program similar to the concepts pioneered in Israel. The team of Justin Goninen, Daniel Schmidt and Mike Lyons captured the $5,000 top prize in the national, multi-disciplinary student competition.

The Fuels Institute is a non-profit research-oriented think tank dedicated to evaluating market issues related to vehicles and the fuels that power them. The case competition was open to both undergraduate and graduate students across the country. Students were asked undertake a broad industry reinvention of both the motor fuels and motor vehicles industries. From all abstracts submitted, 21 schools were asked to submit proposals and three finalists presented their ideas at the Fuels Institute meeting.

Northwestern University captured second place and $2,500 for its proposal, “Integrating Electric Vehicles in the Future Transportation Value Chain,” and third place and $1,000 went to the University of Texas at Dallas for “Monetizing Environmentalism.”

“Our goal in designing our model was not to argue what the world should be. Nor was it to dream about what the world could be. Our goal was to design the most plausible model, considering current technologies, customer attitudes and government involvement in the industry,” the Wisconsin students noted in their proposal.

Battery swapping stations, roughly the size of a car wash, would address the challenge of longer charging times faced by current EV drivers. Retailers would benefit from increased traffic at stores for food and beverage items, while maintaining 3% margins for battery swaps that are roughly in line with traditional fuels margins. The students also said that by taking away the cost of the battery — roughly half the current cost of an EV — by “renting batteries” as part of battery swaps, electric vehicles would be significantly more affordable and sales would surge. 

The students proposed that five cities with populations of around 300,000, such as Madison, Wisconsin, could be test markets for the technology and implementation.

“By developing a battery-swapping model now, and implementing it in a handful of American cities, the value chain is able to learn about and improve electricity as a fuel before a radical shift in government regulation,” the students noted in their proposal.

“The fuels and vehicles industries are facing a rapidly changing policy and technology environment, presenting perhaps the first real opportunity since early in the 1900s for dramatic industry reinvention. The sheer amount of new fuels, and new drivetrains, which lie just around the horizon, is truly breathtaking,” said Fuels Institute Executive Director John Eichberger. “The University of Wisconsin team presented a very thoughtful path forward for how to actually make this happen.”

In addition to the student competition, the Fuels Institute, founded by NACS in 2013, commissions and publishes comprehensive, fact-based research projects that address the issues identified by the affected stakeholders. These projects will help to inform both business owners considering long-term investment decisions and policymakers considering legislation and regulations affecting the market.