This is one of the main challenges facing politicians and automakers trying to increase the adoption of electric vehicles: a skeptical consumer base ready to find a reason not to make the switch.
In a report released this week, government researchers said they had found a way to recharge electric car batteries by up to 90% in just 10 minutes. The method is likely five years from hitting the market, the scientists said, but would mark a fundamental change.
“The goal is to be very, very close to [times] you would see at the gas pump,” said Eric Dufek, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory, a research facility run by the Department of Energy.
Big obstacles in the road to switch millions of American drivers to electric vehicles
The report comes as the Biden administration undertakes an arduous task: trying to wean America off gas-guzzling cars and push them towards electric vehicles. Despite billions of government dollars being poured into this effort, electric vehicles are still seen as elite, unreliable and difficult to charge, making people hesitant to switch.
Currently, car manufacturers and public charging stations use several types of chargers that offer different levels of charging times.
The slowest, known as Level 1 chargers, can recharge an electric vehicle battery in 40 to 50 hours, according to the US Department of Transportation. Some of the fastest, known as DC chargers, can charge a battery up to 80% in 20 minutes to an hour.
Tesla’s extensive network of superchargers can deliver 200 miles of charge in 15 minutes, the company said. But the equipment it uses makes it off-limits to other electric vehicles in the United States. (Later this year, Tesla will launch supercharging equipment that non-Tesla drivers can use, the White House said in a June statement.)
Tesla is like an “iPhone on wheels”. And consumers are locked into its ecosystem.
But the race to supercharge electric vehicles has encountered obstacles over the past decade. The problem is the delicate balance between trying to charge an electric vehicle battery faster, but not so fast that fast charging causes long-term damage to the battery or plays a role in exploding it. Rapidly charging electric batteries can cause damage, reducing battery life and performance, scientists said.
“You had batteries when you first got them, they were great, but after a few years or charge cycles, they don’t perform as well,” said Eric D. Wachsman, director of Maryland Energy Innovation. Institute, an energy research organization at the University of Maryland.
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To try to solve this problem, Dufek and his team used machine learning to understand how batteries age during rapid charging. Their algorithm was trained to analyze 20,000 to 30,000 data points that indicated how well the battery was charging and whether it was aging or degrading.
The methods they found can charge an electric vehicle battery up to 90% in 10 minutes, Dufek said, but they hope to do better. Over the next five years, Dufek’s team is working to find a way to charge batteries up to 20 miles per minute, far exceeding the performance of the most capable super chargers, which run around 10 to 15 miles per minute.
“I think we can get there,” Dufek said.
Wachsman said the new research is helpful for the field. “Not too fast, not too slow,” he said of Dufek’s charging approach. “It’s just in this golden loop [zone].”
But the biggest benefit, he said, would be that this method would incentivize automakers to make electric vehicles with smaller batteries, because they would now have batteries that could be charged faster and allow consumers to feel less worried about stopping periodically to get a quick recharge.
“Small batteries are cheaper cars,” he said.
The industry faces other problems. JD Power and Associates said many electric vehicle customers are dissatisfied with public charging stations, including because the units are malfunctioning or out of order.
“Everyone knows that the gas station landscape is all about convenience – readily available, quick refueling and quick convenience items,” Brent Gruber, executive director of global automotive at JD Power, said in a statement. “No matter how fast their vehicle is charging, EV owners always report that they need more options for things to do during each charging session to improve convenience and bridge downtime. “
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Marc Geller, a spokesman for the Electric Vehicle Association, an industry nonprofit, said it’s largely a perception that faster charging times are a significant barrier for customers. who do not buy electric vehicles. “That perception is obviously both true and largely irrelevant,” he said. The biggest problem, Geller added, was that demand exceeded supply.
Most consumers, he said, will choose to charge their car at home, given that it is more convenient and cheaper than public charging stations, which charge more for electricity than utility companies. public services.
“There’s nothing more reliable or cheaper than charging at home,” Geller said.