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SF Startup Could Revolutionize Electric Vehicle Charging With Battery Swaps In Just 10 Minutes

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A San Francisco startup is offering a way to recharge electric vehicles in just 10 minutes which it says could revolutionize the market for EVs.

There's a lot of talk about electric vehicles but Americans have been reluctant to accept them. In the last 10 years, less than one percent of cars sold in the U.S. were electric. So, it is an industry very much in its infancy and how EV's operate may change drastically in the coming years.

Tesla's "superchargers" are some of the fastest available, but Hong Zheng still hated waiting for an hour at the Emeryville charging site to recharge his car.

"See, I don't like sitting here a long time!" he said.

That's the problem San Francisco startup 'Ample' is trying to solve. The company developed an automated station for swapping out depleted batteries and replacing them with ones fully charged. There is a similar system currently in China, but co-founder Khaled Hassounah says Ample's 10-minute swap stations address the biggest obstacle facing acceptance of EVs in this country.

"It's very simple. It has to be as good as gas," Hassounah said. "It has to be as cheap, it has to be as fast, it has to be as convenient."

The depleted battery modules are recharged at the station at a slower rate, avoiding the high cost of installing high-energy fast chargers. Hassounah and co-founder John de Souza are marketing the technology to fleets initially.

"So for the fleet, we don't charge them for any of the swapping stations," said de Souza, "so they get all of the infrastructure for free. And what they pay is a price per mile that's comparable to gas."

The stations can fit inside two average-sized parking spaces so they could be placed almost anywhere, even at existing gas stations. Because they are prefabricated and don't require any on-site construction, the founders say a city the size of San Francisco could conceivably be outfitted with EV infrastructure in five to six weeks' time.

"Once it's deployed across the city, we could then open it up to consumers," said de Souza.

That's when the individual buyers market should really take off. But would it require as many swapping stations as gas stations for that to happen?

"To a degree, yes," said Hassounah. "So, the answer is yes, the beauty of it is that it doesn't take a lot of money or a lot of time to do that."

The company has set up two swapping stations in San Francisco and one in Oakland to work with fleets belonging to Uber. Ample plans to open two more in the coming months. Eventually, if the idea takes off, drivers like Zheng will have another option than just sitting and waiting.

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