Electric vehicles are super fast, super quiet and brilliantly futuristic. They are what MP3 is to vinyl, a much better idea for everyday.
As EV batteries and charging infrastructure improve, the reality is that it still takes many hours to fully charge an average electric car. But that seems to be changing.
Last month, news surfaced that a battery technology company had succeeded in achieving what seemed impossible – developing an EV battery capable of fully recharging in five minutes. Naturally my attention was drawn, it sounds too good to be true. I had to look deeper.
So how long will it be before we have electric vehicles that charge fully – zero to 100 percent – as fast as a gasoline car can have its tank filled? I asked an industry expert for his opinion on the situation and to find out what is going on.
Hope is near
A few weeks ago, the British newspaper The Guardian published a story that must be music to the ears of the least anxious EV driver: One company developed EV batteries that can be fully recharged in just five minutes.
[Read: How much does it cost to buy, own, and run an EV? It’s not as much as you think]
The report tells the story of Israel-based StoreDot, a battery technology company that has successfully produced EV power supplies on a scalable production line, suggesting that we are not far from the mass market of ” five-minute batteries ”.
“We don’t release lab prototype, we release engineering samples from a mass production line. This shows that it is doable and is commercially ready, ”Doron Myersdorf, CEO of StoreDot, told The Guardian.
Together with a Chinese battery maker, StoreDot is said to have produced more than 1,000 of its super-fast charging batteries and has invested in companies like Daimler, BP and Samsung.
Things look promising, but like any high tech, batteries won’t come cheap.
At what price?
Speaking to the Guardian, Professor Chao-Yang Wang, of the Battery and Energy Storage Technology Center at Pennsylvania State University in the United States, said batteries would not necessarily make electric vehicles more expensive.
The theory is that automakers will be able to reduce the size of their batteries, thereby reducing costs. Range doesn’t matter when they can be recharged in a matter of minutes, it assumes the infrastructure is robust and plentiful – which it isn’t, but we’ll get there.
On the other hand, battery expert Mark Ellis of Munro & Associates, tells me that the costs of these batteries are a big unknown. “No one has thought about how much the initial cost of the EV would have to increase to accommodate fast charging,” he says.
While manufacturers strength be able to change the size of their batteries to keep electric vehicles affordable, it’s unclear how much they will need to be reduced.
One thing is certain however, chargers to power the batteries will at a substantial cost.
“Think how much power you would need to pump into a battery for a 5 minute charge? It is a lot,Ellis told me.
In fact, the more powerful the charger, the more expensive it is to develop and install. According to a 2015 report from the US Department of Energy, standard Level 2 chargers cost between $ 600 and $ 12,700 to install. Whereas DC fast chargers can cost between $ 4,000 and $ 51,000 to install.
Specialized chargers for super-fast charging in five minutes will cost even more.
Meet your expectations
Unfortunately, chargers for this type of battery are still part of the future. So let’s take a step back for a second and consider StoreDot’s expectation of its battery capacity when using contemporary charging infrastructure.
Using modern chargers, the company aims to deliver batteries capable of adding 100 miles of range in five minutes, by 2025.
That’s fine, of course, but it’s much more indicative of the state of charge today.
StoreDot’s ambitions are only slightly better than the fast-charging electric vehicles we have today. Adding 100 miles in five minutes seems like the path we were on anyway.
If we look to Tesla, we see a company leading the charge – Not sorry – with regard to EV fast charging.
According to the Silver T, its V3 superchargers, unveiled in 2019, are capable of adding 75 miles of range in five minutes, under perfect conditions.
German automaker Porsche claims its Taycan can fill its battery from 5% to 88% charge in just 22 minutes. Which makes it one of the fastest charging electric vehicles on the planet – but only under perfect conditions using the right charger, which are rare at the moment.
So it’s all well and good to have a fast-charging electric vehicle, but the right chargers are hard to find. Although that is changing.
Not enough chargers
Infrastructure is improving, but it won’t get where it needs to be overnight.
This month the UK installed its 4,000th rapid EV charger. A good step, but 4000 is not enough.
According to the UK think tank Policy Exchange, the country needs to install EV chargers five times faster than it currently does if it is to meet demand by 2030, and these are just regular chargers, not the very powerful chargers needed for fast charging.
The Netherlands has Europe’s fastest growing EV charging network, and it’s still a long way from serving an entire nation of EVs. According to Wallbox, there are 52,000 chargers in the low country, most of which are not fast chargers.
Ultimately, the responsibility for installing the required technology will likely fall on the third-party charging providers. These companies will install what is needed, not cutting edge edge technology that costs nearly five times as much and is only useful to a minority of people.
Ok, so when?
Speaking to The Guardian, Professor Chao-Yang Wang expects these fast-charging batteries to be available within three years.
However, when you consider the whole ecosystem of the car, battery and chargers compatible, three years seems… ambitious.
When I spoke to Ellis, it’s clear that he has a much more tempered expectation of when these types of super fast charging batteries hit the mainstream.
It’s not like this will never happen. But at the moment, he says there’s no precise way to say exactly how long it will take before we see EVs capable of fully recharging in just five minutes.
The reality is, there are many variables that need to come together before EVs that charge in five minutes are commonplace.
It is not impossible, however. Ellis says battery technology is developing rapidly and obstacles are falling just as quickly. But at this point, we can’t set a timeline to see this kind of technology hit the mass market. It is too difficult to say precisely when this technology will become commonplace, as there is still too much to do for the technology to work in the real world.
It’s all well and good to have a battery that can recharge in five minutes, but without a robust, plentiful, and affordable charge, most of the technology is virtually useless.
If you ask me – and I hate to say it – electric vehicles that charge in five minutes seem like a far distant reality.
A simpler and more efficient strategy would be to simply build more chargers so that when people arrive at their destinations they can plug in, charge, and go with a full battery. Five-minute batteries are certainly a technological innovation, but they are seen as a safety net.
I mean, if every parking spot had an EV charger, would we even need batteries that could recharge in five minutes?
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Published February 23, 2021 – 14:37 UTC
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