We've got extreme marathons, diets and Doritos, so clearly "extreme fast charging" was always in the cards for electric vehicles. The U.S. Department of Energy this week announced $19 million for research focused on rapid charge times, which are ultimately needed to help customers overcome EV range anxiety.
DOE announced on Monday support for a dozen cost-shared research projects focused on batteries and vehicle electrification technologies, three of which will be focused on extreme fast charging. DOE seeks to lower the charge times to 15 minutes or less by 2028 by increasing charging power levels up to 400 kW. The agency also wants to reduce battery pack costs to under $100/kWh and to increase range to over 300 miles.
While standard and Level 2 chargers are expected to take care of most EV owners' needs, fast chargers are a key piece to broadly encouraging consumers to switch from traditional combustion engine vehicles. Fast charge capabilities are particularly necessary for larger fleet vehicles, like electric buses, which are powered by much larger batteries.
Most public DC fast chargers (DCFC) max out at about 50 kW, although Tesla's Superchargers have more than double that capacity.
Chargers that large would be capable of reducing typical charging times from 8 hours down to 15 minutes or less, DOE said. That would be a significant improvement, and much closer to the time a driver might spend at a gas station.
Critical for the EV market
DCFCs are "critical" for the development of the EV market, said Noah Garcia, a transportation analyst for Natural Resources Defense Council.
"The overwhelming majority of daily driving needs can already be met with low-power charging at home and the workplace, but DCFC enables greater range confidence on long-distance trips and spurs greater adoption," he told Utility Dive in an email.
But the development of DCFC must be done efficiently, he added, with higher capacity chargers targeted to certain use cases and specific locations.
The largest of DOE's selected projects is being developed by Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification Inc., to develop "high-power wireless extreme fast charging technology that reduces charging time for electric drayage trucks at the Port of Los Angeles."
DOE will support the Salt Lake City-based company's efforts to the tune of almost $4.3 million. The wireless technology already exists, however, and is in use in the company's home city. WAVE developed a system capable of transferring more than 50,000 watts over an 8-inch air gap, co-founder Wesley Smith explains in a video on the company's web site.
Scaling that up to "extreme" levels is the next challenge. Developers in Europe may be getting close.
Just last month, ABB unveiled what it calls the "world’s fastest" electric vehicle charger. The Terra HP fast charger operates at up to 350 kW and can add more than 120 miles of vehicle range in about eight minutes. The company was recently tapped by Electrify America, the group administering the Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement funding, to develop charging stations across the United States.
The group says it plans to place chargers on highway routes at intervals of no more than 120 miles, using the Terra HP stations.
The group wanted partners to deploy "high power charging technologies that equally serve every battery [in] electric vehicles today, as well as the next generation of large batteries," Seth Cutler, chief engineer at Electrify America, said in a statement.
Focus not just on technology, but rates
The focus on DCFC is growing rapidly, and this spring has kicked off with several announcements.
EVgo recently announced it will construct an electric vehicle fast charger network for General Motors' car sharing brand available to Maven Gig Chevrolet Bolt drivers. In the Northeast, the New York Power Authority and other state agencies have asked New York regulators to develop rate structures specifically for DCFC stations, eliminating demand charges which can keep them from being profitable.
While adoption remains low, the stations' low utilization rate combined with short periods of high demand "renders any business model for DCFCs infeasible," NYPA told regulators.
Last year, Rocky Mountain Institute released a charging sessions study of EVgo's 50 kW DCFC California network, concluding that demand charges simply don't work for EV charging stations.
"Public chargers should not feature demand charges," Chris Nelder, a manager with RMI’s electricity practice, told Utility Dive at the time. "There's no reason the utility can't recover the cost through that volumetric rate while still offering a DC fast charger a business case."
Other DOE-funded projects
DOE on Monday also funded two other research projects which, like WAVE, are targeting extreme fast charging systems.
Delta Products Corp. in California will design and test a high-efficiency, medium voltage solid-state transformer-based 400 kW charging system. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, researchers will work to develop a high power inductive extreme fast charging system that is "fully automated, modular, and scaleable for electric vehicles."
The federal government is also backing research into the batteries themselves. The announcement this week noted nine selected battery projects that will focus on "advanced anodes, electrolytes, and battery cell designs that can be charged rapidly — in less than 10 minutes — while still maintaining performance over the 10 year life goal."
The following three projects each received $1.5 million in funding:
- Regents of the University of Michigan will research "three-dimensional hierarchical graphite architectures for anodes for fast charging."
- The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California will focus on advanced electrolyte and optimized cell design.
- Florida-based Microvast Inc. aims to develop new electrolyte additives, optimized active materials, and electrode formulations.
Despite the interest in DCFC and the technologies to enable them, most of a consumer's charging will be done at work or home, researchers say. That's good, because faster stations are expensive to develop, from $50,000 to $100,000 and "an order of magnitude" pricier than Level 2 stations, said NRDC's Garcia.
"An underappreciated fact about EVs is that they can do most of their charging while the driver is at home, work or around town," Garcia said. "In that context, wait times for charging become less of an issue — if at all."
This article has been updated to clarify that the 400 kW chargers DOE envisions would not be for homes.