Jeju-do wants to become a carbon-free island by 2030. Wind turbines and solar panels are being built and transportation shifts from fuel to electricity as power source. Just recently, Jeju-do introduced their first electric buses for public transport. But the vehicles aren’t any standard plug-in buses, they are electric buses with swapping battery system. It’s a technology invented in Korea and Jeju-do is the first place to use this technology commercially.
Technology behind the Swapping Battery System
The technology is relatively simple: Instead of charging the battery on the bus, the empty battery gets replaced through another fully recharged battery at a bus stop. The system is completely automated. The greatest advantage is that it helps to avoid idle time of buses. In the picture below you can see a bus stop with a large roof. That’s where the battery swapping system is placed. If a bus stops at that station, the roof opens up and the system takes out the empty battery from the bus and puts in the new one.
A couple of years ago I took the following video of the battery swapping system at a transport expo in Seoul:
The whole process of changing a battery took 50 seconds in this demonstration. Usually buses in Korea are quick and here in order to exchange the batteries, the bus drivers will need some patience. I suppose that the drivers have to be precise in maneuvering the vehicle at that particular station as I believe that the swapping system allows only little tolerance.
I wrote about the battery-swapping technology in 2013 and then I said that the battery has enough power for 20 km. In the meantime, the company changed their name from Smart e-Bus to Begins and most importantly, the battery performance grew immensely. The battery performance increased since then and now, the vehicles can drive around 85 km on a full charge.
The length of the routes in one direction is between 20 and 40 km. News articles mention that the battery is strong enough to provide power for the longest distance of a route in both directions (around 70 km). So, they can easily transport passengers in both directions before requiring a battery swap. According to an entry in the Korean public transport forum SBM, the bus started with a charge of 96% and had 48% left as it arrived at the final stop.
Bus Model FIBIRD
The electric buses with swapping battery system are developed and produced by TGM, which is owned by the Chinese TAIQI Group. One electric bus costs 358 million KRW (ca. 314,000 USD). TGM (formerly Hankuk Fiber) also developed the Namsan electric bus, Gumi’s wirelessly charged electric buses and electric buses for Pohang. The model used on Jeju-do is called FIBIRD, the second generation of their electric bus models. It has a maximum power of 230 kW, provided by through two high capacity batteries.
The battery swapping technology is an invention by Begins. This case seems to show a successful cooperation between TGM and Begins. Here you can see how the electric bus looks from above:
Location of the Bus Station
The first bus stop with the battery swapping system was built in front of the community center of Daeryun-dong in Seogwipo. The construction of the bus stop began in March and it took three months in total. During that time the buses have done test drives without passengers. The commercial operation started at the end of June. There are 18 electric buses operating on the four routes 100, 110, 120 and 130.
Until the end of the year 23 buses will be in commercial use. It’s an exciting development. I’m very curious about how the swapping process looks like and how difficult it is for the drivers to Jeju-do is going to expand the fleet to 120 electric buses until 2018.