We often hear about ‘range anxiety’ when talking about electric vehicles, of course it refers to the angst you feel when travelling anything further than your regular journey, or pushing the limits of the range; will you make it to your destination?
Charging stations are becoming commonplace, although still not quite as readily available or accessible as traditional garage forecourts, and of course, by their very nature could be occupied for some time, but researchers at Penn State University in the U.S. may have the answer.
80% charge in half an hour
Manufacturers of electric vehicles are constantly developing methods to increase charge rates, or lessen charge time, to make the whole process of driving a BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) as convenient as possible – it really wasn’t that along ago that running out of charge meant a ten-hour (at least) wait, while the electricity trickled through the cells at a snail’s pace.
Most mainstream manufacturers now offer something like an 80% charge in thirty minutes, but even that figure still lags way behind the traditional internal combustion refuel where the longest wait could be in the queue to pay for it.
This is just one of the reasons that people quote as to why they’d never own a BEV, or why an all-electric vehicle will never have the same dominance as ICE. But what if you could completely recharge in ten minutes?
New process, same tech
Recharging batteries (be that a regular lead-acid, phone, camera … pretty much any battery) faster than recommended has always been able to be done, but invariably it damages the battery and shortens the lifespan; be that the life of the battery itself, or the charge it holds.
And when you hear that replacement batteries can cost thousands of pounds (a Nissan Leaf battery pack for example will cost £4920), it’s the wise choice to do all you can to prevent damaging the batteries, and maximise their life.
Lithium-ion batteries are no different – rapid charging will lead to degradation; at lower temperatures, the ions end up as spikes on the anode electrode rather than having a smooth finish, in a process called ‘lithium plating’. This leads to reduced capacity and potentially premature failure. The way to avoid lithium plating is to charge at higher temperatures.
However, heating the battery is not without problems either; while it avoids the plating issue, it can deteriorate the battery in other ways, so the key is to find the sweet spot.
The Penn State team have found that by heating the batteries to 60C, and then rapidly cooling them to ambient temperatures, lithium plating is avoided, as is heat damage – the best of both worlds.
To make this technology work, the team have developed a new battery which incorporates a thin nickel foil, which when activated, creates an electrical circuit that heats the internal structure of the battery in less than 30 seconds, the cooling effect comes from the vehicle’s own cooling system.
Professor Chao-Yang Wang at Penn State said: “We demonstrated that we can charge an electrical vehicle in 10 minutes for a 200 to 300-mile range, and we can do this maintaining 2,500 charging cycles, or the equivalent of half a million miles of travel. The 10-minute trend is for the future and is essential for adoption of electric vehicles because it solves the range anxiety problem.”
Essentially, this could be great news for buyers that have, up until now, been putting off a purchase of a BEV due to worries over charging, but as with all things technology related, this will mean a further increase in purchase price until the tech is readily and widely adopted.
It has taken around ten years of constant development for regular electric vehicles to even get close to their ICE counterparts in terms of purchase price, and the majority of that price differential was always accounted for by battery prices, so it’s likely that a return to newer battery technology could once again push those prices upwards.
With that said, the whole BEV market is really still in its infancy, it will take decades of development for the tech to plateau, just the same as the internal combustion engine. No doubt that we’ll see waves of new technology being introduced which will lead to a surge in pricing, before settling back down again – there will be a constant ebb and flow of pricing, right up until the ‘next big thing’.
There was most definitely a time that motorists, journalists, and ‘petrolheads’ laughed at the thought of an electric vehicle becoming mainstream, but that time is almost here, and thanks to technology and processes, these new vehicles will be better than anything that has preceded them.
What do you think … will reduced charge times be enough to turn the tables for you? Should we just embrace BEVs with the same vigour as we do (did?) the petrol engine? Let us know in the comments.