Taking another significant step closer to making an electric car network a reality, Palo Alto-based start-up Better Place demonstrated a prototype of its automated battery switch station for the first time at the Yokohama EV exhibit in Japan on Wednesday. A demonstration video clocked a battery change at one minute and 15 seconds once the car was in place. The technology for the station was developed in Israel. "Today marks a major milestone for the automotive industry as well as for Better Place," said Shai Agassi, the company's Israeli founder and CEO. "For nearly a century, the automotive industry has been inextricably tied to oil. Today, we're demonstrating a new path forward where the future of transportation and energy is driven by our desire for a clean planet and a robust economic recovery fueled by investments in clean technology, and one in which the well-being of the automotive industry is intrinsically coupled with the well-being of the environment." The battery switch station utilizes two robotic shuttles which run underneath the car. One takes the depleted battery out and the other puts the fully charged one in. There is no need for the driver to exit the vehicle at all during the switch. Once the vehicle entered the station and climbed up the ramp, it took just one minute and 15 seconds to change out the battery. The Nissan Dualis was used in the demonstration, but Better Place intends the stations to be compatible with all electric vehicles (EV) with switchable batteries. Fixed battery EV's could recharge via charge points that are also part of Better Place's planned network. To complete the environmentally friendly solution, the demo station at the exhibit was powered by Sharp Corp. photovoltaic solar panels to demonstrate the potential for clean energy powered vehicles. While Better Place believes most users will rely on plug-in charge points near home or work, the battery switch option is crucial for extending the range of the vehicle for a single voyage. Currently, lithium-ion battery technology enables about 160 km on a single charge. However, the technology is constantly being refined. According to Better Place, the batteries are expected to last more than 10 years and 7,000 recharges. They can be recharged in three to seven hours at a charge point. They are also environmentally friendly as more than 95% of the battery materials can be recovered and reused. From a theft prevention standpoint, the battery is secured using a special latching mechanism which requires a command from the station to release, Aya Achimeir, Better Place Israel spokeswoman said. Moreover, the system will have constant command and control communication, so it wouldn't be that easy to walk off with a battery, she added. The demonstration was part of a Japanese Environment Ministry feasibility study. In December 2008, the Japanese Ministry of Environment announced a large scale feasibility study (lasting until June 2009) to increase the adoption of electric vehicles in Japan. Better Place was the only foreign company invited to participate, along with Japanese carmakers. Japan is the second largest economy in the world, and is home to 127 million people and 79 million cars. Japan is also the largest auto manufacturing country in the world and is the second largest net importer of oil, importing nearly all its crude oil. The Japanese government has set two goals related to electric vehicles. The first is that by 2020, half of all new vehicles sold will be electric, while the other is that by 2015, a battery will be developed with 50 percent more capacity and 85% cheaper than current batteries on the market. "Japan has always been at the forefront of automotive engineering and design and maintains a strong sense of environmentalism," said Kiyotaka Fujii, President of Better Place Japan and Head of Business Development for Asia Pacific. "The launch of Japan's electric vehicle study is an important milestone in achieving a zero-emission transportation society, and our successful demonstration of charging vehicles with both fixed and switchable batteries is an important contribution towards moving the entire industry forward." Here in Israel, Better Place plans to launch the network in 2010. Charge points have already begun to be installed. The company plans similar networks for Denmark, Australia, California, Hawaii and Ontario, Canada. Better Place Israel CEO Moshe Kaplinsky remarked, "This is a huge achievement for Better Place and for the State of Israel. Technology that was developed in Israel was demonstrated in the heart of the of the Japanese auto industry, from which the electric vehicle will emerge. "Better Place proves, once again, that the perfect infrastructure solution is not a far-off dream or dependent on future technological developments, it exists here and now and presents the true realistic alternative to dependence on oil," he said in a statement.