Solar shipping container charges & stores electric cargo bikes for zero emissions deliveries

Current Motor Minifleet
© Current Motor

Combining solar power, battery storage, electric vehicles, and shipping containers, this local transportation and delivery solution pushes all of the right cleantech buttons.

When it comes to cleaning up transportation, deliveries and service calls and other local mobility needs are one place that seems to keep being overlooked. And perhaps that's just because we tend to be car-centric or ownership-minded about vehicles, so when we see a sassy new Tesla, we go a little ga-ga, but when we see an electric delivery vehicle, especially one so unassuming as a cargo motorcycle, we might not even recognize it for what it is, which is a local transport solution that is quiet, clean, and efficient.

And maybe part of that is because many of us don't own or ride motorcycles, so the idea of using electric ones probably doesn't even register with us as a potentially greener way to transport people and stuff. But in many places, local deliveries and service calls could be carried out via this emissions-free option, and a company called Current Motor is on the leading edge with its "Mini-fleet" of EVs in a box.

In this case, the EVs are electric cargo motorcycles with a 450 lb (204 kg) capacity and a 50 mile (80.4 km) range, and the box they come in is a modified shipping container that serves as their storage facility and solar-powered charging station. Essentially, the Current Motor solution is a virtually instant, drop-in option that could be a turnkey local delivery solution, and while it's still a new-ish and (relatively) untested prototype, it's been chosen to be included as one of four featured demonstrations at the upcoming ARPA-E Seventh Annual Energy Innovation Summit in March.

The Mini-fleet in a Box is centered around a standard ISO shipping container (20' x 8' x 8') that has been modified with a solar panel array (which folds out for charging and in for storage) and a 22 kWh battery storage system that is said to be able to be fully charged in a day. The Nb Solar Charging Station is claimed to be able to fully charge four of the company's Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycles from the battery bank in about five hours, which means that the entire system could be entirely self-powered. The motorcycles, which come with the company's "Telematics" platform for tracking and reporting, fit inside the container for storage and charging, and the container also includes a radio communications center and mobile office options.

Along with the clean power from solar panels, and the energy storage feature for managing electricity production during the day and charging the bikes at night, the Current Motor Mini-Fleet solution has another major advantage to it, which is its standard physical footprint of an ISO shipping container.

These containers can be easily transported by truck, train, boat, or even a heavy-lifting helicopter, using the existing shipping container infrastructure, and could be not only a potentially turnkey business solution, but also an effective option for deployment during emergencies or natural disaster responses. Additionally, the system's solar array and battery storage unit can function as a micro-grid for mobile power, and the whole package is said to be able to be installed "by one person in minutes" and will not require any permits or additional engineering work to get up and running.

The ARPA-E description calls this is a full-scale prototype, not a finished product, so it may be awhile before we're seeing the Mini-Fleet in a Box solution in place in a city near you, but the Michigan-based company said last year that orders "are being manufactured now" for export "to global mining and manufacturing companies."

“Current Motor’s Mini-fleet-in-a-Box uses 100% renewable, clean, solar generated electricity to charge our zero emissions Electric Cargo Motorcycles, making them among the most sustainable fleet options available. Current Motor green Mini-fleets are turnkey and self-contained, and literally work out of the box upon delivery to customer sites." - Lauren Flanagan, Executive Chair of Current Motor

One of the potential applications of the Current Motor solution could be, as seen in one of the company's Facebook posts, for local services such as police patrols, and with its 450 lb cargo capacity, the bikes may be able to replace a fair number of other local delivery and service vehicles.

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