Have Batteries, Will Travel

Modular technology could be key to more efficient electric vehicles.

It’s hard to say exactly when electric cars went from being a highway novelty to the sleek, silent staple of the road. As for where they could go, engineers at UC San Diego are steering toward a more functional future.

Current electric cars are entirely dependent on charge stations, which can be hard to come by, never mind the time it takes to supply a charge. Today, a long-distance road trip calls for significant pit stops for power.

M-BEAM plans to take its modular-outfitted Volkswagen Golf on a 2,472-mile, coast-to-coast road trip. (Courtesy M-BEAM)

M-BEAM, or Modular Battery Exchange and Active Management, may very well revolutionize electric vehicle technology by using smaller, rechargeable units, or modules, within the battery. “It’s similar to your standard triple-A, double-A batteries that everyone is used to,” says Raymond de Callafon, project leader and mechanical engineering professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. “[M-BEAM] batteries are just much larger voltage, much higher currents.”

And with battery modules that can be swapped out as easily as those in your TV remote, M-BEAM technology hopes to extend the range that electric cars can travel, indefinitely.

Moreover, if modular technology can essentially liberate the battery from the vehicle, these expensive batteries could then be leased, dropping the automobile’s price by upward of $10,000, further closing the price gap with gas-powered cars.

And electric vehicles are just the start of modular technology’s potential. According to M-BEAM collaborator Lou Shrinkle, ’74, CEO of Pacific Battery Management Systems, the technology could eliminate the use of fossil fuels for energy storage systems in general, in cases such as solar backup and portable generators.

The full benefit of M-BEAM may still be some miles away, but its project engineers plan to showcase their current technology by taking a modular-outfitted Volkswagen Golf on a 2,472-mile, coast-to-coast road trip. The team is currently gathering the remaining funds needed for the trip, and hoping to attract more sponsors for a grand tour of M-BEAM in action. Learn more at modularexchange.com.


M-BEAM’s first phase was successfully funded through Crowdsurf, UC San Diego’s philanthropic crowdfunding platform for Triton initiatives. Visit Crowdsurf to be a part of what’s next!