Cars with electric drive motors are now midway through their second decade, and ideas from hybrids and electric cars are starting to filter back into mainstream gasoline vehicles.

Ford, for one, adapted several ideas from its hybrid vehicles to reduce the fuel consumption of its 2011 Explorer sport-utility vehicle.

Now, a new startup is adapting one of the more radical concepts proposed for electric cars--battery swapping--to gasoline vehicles.

$35 million in venture funds

NuTankX, a startup engineering firm based in Kellog Valley, Michigan (with offices in Palo Alto, California, the heart of Silicon Valley), announced yesterday that it had accepted first-round funding of $35 million from a consortium of venture investors to build out its initial network of gasoline-tank swapping stations.

Ford F-150 fuel tank, similar to those NuTankX expects to swap

Ford F-150 fuel tank, similar to those NuTankX expects to swap

The company's goal was to alleviate what are projected to be increasingly long waits in line at a declining number of gas stations, along with the added time to fill the tank (at reduced flow rates caused by new emissions-limiting measures on the nozzles).

To circumvent that process entirely, enrolled customers will use the NuTankX mobile app to signal a network of small garages whose vehicle hoists have been adapted to permit tank swapping.

Pre-filling via trajectory locator

The smart phone app interfaces with the vehicle navigation system to calculate the nearest NuTankX-enabled garage location, and alerts the proprietor of the designated location to direct an automated fill system to fill the appropriate tank with the desired fuel and transport it to the hoist to position it for swapping.

NuTankX forklift before modificationt to add second set of tines to accept empty fuel tank

NuTankX forklift before modificationt to add second set of tines to accept empty fuel tank

The NuTankX installation consists of one or two shipping containers, retrofitted with reinforced tanks for regular, premium, and diesel fuel, along with an automated filling system that can fill any of the tanks stored in racks.

Automated twin-tine forklifts

A specially equipped forklift adapted from factory automated-guided vehicles (AGVs) is used to carry the filled tank from the container to the base of the hoist.

The first of its two sets of tines accepts the empty tank, then it spins 180 degrees to offer up the filled tank for installation. The entire swapping process takes less than 4 minutes.

Initially, the rollout will be limited to densely populated areas of northern and southern California, where emissions regulations are most severe.

NuTankX founder Buff Rattigan points out that independent service garages are some of the only locations in the state permitted to store and use gasoline on site, neatly end-running the enormous challenges of getting permission to set up new businesses that will store gasoline.

Big pickups first

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD

2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD

NuTankX will initially focus on vehicles with larger tanks (which take longer to fill once the driver finally reaches the pump) and the highest sales, meaning that a large portion of its initial customer base is likely to be high-volume pickup trucks. Rattigan said he does not expect to offer auxiliary tank swapping, however.

The company is already negotiating with parcel delivery services to provide their fuel at a bulk rate.

It's worth noting that electric cars are benefiting from some of the lessons of the gasoline world, too, however. BP is developing a new battery cell format that can be recharged by refilling its liquid electrolyte on the road.



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