Fastest electric car chargers waiting for batteries to catch up

An electric vehicle charging point at the Tritium manufacturing plant in Brisbane, Australia. It is among the most advanced car chargers available, promising to deliver a full tank of juice in minutes.
An electric vehicle charging point at the Tritium manufacturing plant in Brisbane, Australia. It is among the most advanced car chargers available, promising to deliver a full tank of juice in minutes.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Ultra-fast chargers can add more than 345km of range in 10 minutes compared with slow-speed ones offering about 32km of driving distance an hour

MELBOURNE • The viability of electric vehicles (EVs) depends in part on a manufacturing plant in eastern Australia, where gleaming white cabinets the size of large refrigerators are loaded onto shipping crates.

They are among the most advanced car chargers available, promising to deliver a full tank of juice in minutes.

Car-makers and energy companies are spearheading the global roll-out of these ultra-fast charging pumps to lure consumers away from gas guzzlers and towards vehicles powered by electricity. Thousands of souped-up stations are being installed along highways from Shanghai to California, with the capacity to charge enough for 32km of driving range in one minute.

Electric vehicles will comprise more than half of all new car sales in 2040, according to research service BloombergNEF, as prices come down, while battery life and driving ranges get longer. To meet the power demand, about US$50 billion (S$68 billion) of investment in charging equipment is needed through 2030, according to McKinsey & Co, a management consulting firm.

Volkswagen, Tesla and Ford Motor are among the car-makers spending on high-speed chargers with eyes towards that future. Current power packs are not compatible with the fastest chargers and the first EVs able to fully utilise the new pumps will not debut until later this year.

Still, car companies are nudging battery-makers to catch up to help allay nagging consumer concerns that EVs cannot take uninterrupted lengthy trips and that motorists face long, inconvenient waits to recharge on the go.

"It's about impacting that buying decision in the dealership,'' said Dr David Finn, chief executive officer of Tritium, an Australian supplier of high-power chargers to more than 25 countries. "The main reason you own a car is for the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you feel like it. That will always be playing on your mind if you have a slow charger.''

 
 

The push is seeding unheralded companies in atypical manufacturing hubs, including Tritium in Brisbane and Innogy's BTCPower, which has plants in California and the Philippines. It is also enticing traditional energy and engineering companies such as Zurich's ABB and Portugal's Efacec Power Solutions.

A typical, slow-speed public EV charger offers about 32km of driving distance an hour at the plug. The next level up, called a fast charger, can add about 120km in 30 minutes, according to Los Angeles-based station operator EVgo Services. The ultra-fast chargers blow those away.

Tritium, formed in 2001 by members of a solar-car racing team, makes pumps that add more than 345km of range in 10 minutes. Customers include Ionity, a consortium of car-makers, including Volkswagen and Ford, that is partnering energy giants such as Royal Dutch Shell and Kuwait Petroleum International.

Ionity is building about 400 stations - with as many as six ultra-fast chargers each - on European highways to compete with networks backed by Renault and Nissan Motor. ABB, with chargers deployed in 70 countries, is also supplying high-speed pumps.

It's "a real breakthrough in terms of convenience'', ABB's CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer told the CERAWeek conference in Houston last month.

Tesla, which has more than 12,000 chargers globally, is boosting the speed of its own refuelling units to cut time at the pump by as much as half. The upgrade promises to add as much as 120km of charge in five minutes - still behind the ultra-fast models.

The speed at which current EVs can recharge is limited by such factors as the size of their battery, the voltage the pack can accept and the charger's current.

While it may be years before battery packs able to handle the power surge from ultra-fast chargers go mainstream, some new EVs - including Hyundai Motor's Kona Electric - already can recharge faster than previous generations.

"The cars are coming," said Mr Marty Andrews, CEO of Chargefox, which installed ABB's fastest units at some Australia charging stations. "The car-makers want ultra-rapid chargers because they want this to be future-proof. This is not a six-month plan, it's a 10-year plan."

Battery-makers are starting to follow that lead. China's Contemporary Amperex Technology - better known as CATL - is working to improve charging speeds, according to its website. South Korea's LG Chem, a supplier to Volkswagen, last year invested in Enevate, a University of California spin-off that is developing cells capable of ultra-fast refuelling.

With annual EV sales reaching two million last year, more emphasis is being put on building a widely available public charging infrastructure, including the faster pumps.

By the end of last year, there were more than 630,000 public charging points installed globally, the bulk of which were in China, according to BNEF. By 2030, there may be demand for more than 20 million public EV charging pumps, the International Energy Agency forecasts.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2019, with the headline 'Fastest electric car chargers waiting for batteries to catch up'. Print Edition | Subscribe