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Electric Car Charging As Fast As Gasoline Is The Aim, But Barriers Remain

You will soon be able to recharge your electric car as fast and easily as a traditional gasoline fill-up. The trouble is “soon” is likely to be least 4 and maybe 8 years or more away.

When and if that happens – there are many tough hurdles to jump as technology that works a treat in the laboratory needs to be scaled up for mass manufacture – the final reason not to buy an electric car will disappear, the current other major obstacles being price and range anxiety. We are promised ever lower electric car prices and longer range. Recent news about faster battery charging has excited electric car visionaries.

Israel’s StoreDot claims its 5-minute fill-up is getting closer, with its improved lithium-ion technology. StoreDot’s claims are underlined by its serious array of financial backers which include BP, Mercedes parent Daimler, TDK of Japan and Samsung of Korea. After its recent progress report, StoreDot CEO Doron Myersdorf said this.

“We’re on the cusp of achieving a revolution in the EV charging experience that will remove the critical barrier to mass adoption of EVs.”

It’s not clear how long a cusp is though.

Solid Power of the U.S., backed by Ford Motor Co, said it is making progress with the next step up in technology, solid-state batteries, and hopes to reach the mass manufacturing stage probably in 2027.

 

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U.S. startup QuantumScape, backed by Volkswagen, is working towards a battery which has solid rather than liquid electrolytes and lithium metal to create a denser and safer cell. These batteries might be available a bit earlier and could be 3 years away.

And then there is the promise of Toyota, which has been playing its cards close to its chest while investing heavily in advanced battery technology. Toyota has appeared under-committed to battery electric car development while pushing the wonders of hydrogen fuel-cell cars but is believed to be only a couple of years away from a big solid-state battery advance.

Solid state batteries could produce up to 45% more power than those using liquid electrolytes, while non-flammable, solid electrolytes mean the risk of fire threatened by current technology is eliminated. Expect to see these batteries first in upmarket and pricey long-range electric vehicles.

Europe finds itself in a dark place in the race to build batteries for the electric revolution. According to investment bank UBS, it only accounts for about 3% of global battery cell output and the European Union (EU) wants to raise to this to 25% by 2030. Earlier this week the EU reportedly approved $3.5 billion to support the production of batteries, with subsidies going to BMW, Stellantis (the new product of the Groupe PSA-FCA merger), and Tesla. So, when new battery cell technologies are developed there will no shortage of capital to move the projects along.

And Europe is going to be the global leader in the market for battery electric vehicles (BEV). According to IHS Markit, BEV’s market share in the EU will zoom from 2.1% in 2019 to 19.1% in 2025 and 30.0% in 2030. In 2020, the total market for cars and SUVs in the EU was just under 10 million. China’s market share of BEVs will hit 24.2% by 2030, while in the U.S. it will only reach 15%, IHS Markit said, in a forecast compiled before the Biden administration announced its new green policy.

Professor David Greenwood of Britain’s Warwick University said the success of electric cars and SUVs depends on a ubiquitous charging network and batteries which allow faster loading of electricity. Larger batteries won’t be necessary if range anxiety is eliminated by electric car drivers knowing they are always only minutes or so away from a charger which performs as fast as a gasoline.

How close are we to a quick charging battery being available to the public?

“There are a lot companies producing impressive test results in the laboratory, but with technology that is not yet scalable. There is a big gap between making a battery that works in the lab and the market. You can show a process that can make hundreds of cells, but it will have to be able to make tens of millions. For the second-generation batteries and also the new solid-state ones, to achieve scientific and engineering feasibility for mass manufacturing it will take between 5 and 8 years until consumers get them,” Greenwood said.

Graham Evans, analyst with IHS Markit, agrees there is a big jump from laboratory to consumer, but is a bit more optimistic about the timeline, with solid-state becoming available to the mass market by 2025, and maybe appearing in small numbers by 2023.

“There is a huge jump from the laboratory to being installed in a vehicle. It has to perform in extreme temperatures, vigorous driving conditions, regular fast charging and this presents a huge challenge and a great unknown for any technology right now. Low temperature performance poses a significant test. It might work in the lab but how about the test track in the Arctic Circle,” Evans said.

Evans points out that most electric car charging initially will take place at home and can be spread out overnight with a relatively minor impact on the generating grid, but as ownership widens to include business users travelling maybe 200 to 300 miles a day the fast-charging network will become more important. That will pose new problems because fast-chargers require much more energy from the grid and are very costly to install. Because of this it will be difficult to provide many actual charging bays, and it is likely to see big queue buildups, which won’t be a great advert for those refuelling their internal combustion engine vehicles with gasoline and witnessing this.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Prajyot Sathe expects new battery technology to hit the market in 4 to 5 years.

“It is difficult to mention one single company as there are over 50 which are working on fast charging technologies that include development on charging stations, batteries and charging technologies. Fast charging technology will be the key in future of EV charging since 100% of vehicle manufacturers are adopting fast charging regardless if it is pure battery electric vehicle or a plugin hybrid electric vehicle,” Sathe said.

Warwick University’s Greenwood says electricity generation is unlikely to be a problem for domestic electric car charging.

“We have enough energy from the grid with wind, nuclear and renewable generation. The challenge is in the distribution which hasn’t been upgraded for decades. House wiring and local substations will be challenged,” Greenwood said.

But in the overall market for electric cars, these new technology batteries will be a gamechanger.

“We need to develop and integrate within a vehicle, a battery system based on a mixture of highly energy dense solid-state cells and high-power density cells. These new battery types are more efficient with better energy storage, a smaller package and the ability to fast charge. We need to deliver a solution with a simpler cooling system, a reduced dedicated crash structure for the battery, reduced charging time for up to 500 km (312 miles) electric range, and a weight saving of up to 10% compared to existing solutions,” Greenwood said.

“From a technical perspective there’s a lot of hope out there. Several companies are coming forward with technology out of the laboratory and delivering what we are looking for – 5 to 10-minute charging – but the challenge is industrializing at scale and typically that’s going to be 5 to 8 years away,” Greenwood said.

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