Breakthroughs by NASA, Others Aim to Cut EV Charging Times
Two landmark projects—one by NASA and Purdue University, another by Penn State and EC Power—stand to revolutionize electric vehicle technology by lowering charging times to just a few minutes.
Cooler components plus less power-hungry batteries equal two EV technology breakthroughs, both of which shave vehicle charging times from several hours to a mere handful of minutes.
Using technology instrumental in future space missions, NASA redirected the application to an earthbound concern: making electrical vehicle charging times much faster. Purdue University teamed with the space agency to devise a technique called “subcooled flow boiling,” designed to cool charging cables that transmit high charges. By eliminating the risk of overheating components, a much greater current is conveyed, and a quicker charging time results: five minutes or less, according to NASA.
A small car receives an electric charge. Image used courtesy of Mike's Photography from Pixabay
Purdue Prototype Creates EV Current Event
With the most advanced chargers available only capable of delivering current up to 520 amperes, the Purdue prototype dwarfs that amount with a current of more than 2,400 amps. That is 4.6 times higher, which means charging an EV at a road station (about 20 minutes) or at home (several hours with a puny 150-amp maximum rating) would be achieved in less than five minutes.
Collaborating with Ford Motor Company since 2017, Purdue has been pursuing a quest to remove heat from the charging process. In 2021, the university developed its “alternative cooling method” that evolved into the NASA-supported technology. NASA says the recent innovation removes up to 24.22 kilowatts of heat, sparing EV charging components accordingly.
Penn State Team Tackles EV Battery Challenges
The second breakthrough project making headlines involves EV batteries. Penn State’s Dr. Chao-Yang Wang, professor of mechanical engineering, co-authored a battery design study with four other Penn State researchers and three from EC Power, a State College, Pennsylvania-based startup.
An inevitable shift in new vehicle sales to battery-powered EVs brings two essential challenges, Wang said: battery charging time and battery size. He claims his technology has spawned the opportunity to shrink EV batteries from 150 to 50 kilowatt-hours while removing “range anxiety” as a factor for drivers.
At the nucleus of this technology is internal thermal modulation, a temperature control method that optimizes battery performance. An efficient battery operates hot but not overly hot. Attaining the right battery temperature has long perplexed engineers whose solutions were too slow and squandered too much energy.
Two vehicles being charged at a public charging station. Image used courtesy of Joenomias Menno de Long from Pixabay
Internal thermal modulation overcomes these past concerns. An ultrathin nickel foil is added to the battery interior along with the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. This foil stimulates and regulates the temperature and reactivity from within, generating some major benefits. An EV charging time of 10 minutes is accomplished, and the use of critical raw materials (cobalt, graphite, and lithium) is reduced. This all leads to an affordable EV, cheaper to produce and easier on the consumer’s bank account.
Projects Will Embark on Pioneering Power Journeys
Both the NASA/Purdue and the Penn State/EC Power projects have miles of untested roads to travel. Purdue’s Dr. Issam Mudawar runs a laboratory that will reach out to EV and charging cable producers to test that project’s prototype within the next two years. Wang says EC Power intends to construct and market that joint endeavor’s rapid-charging battery.
Time ultimately will reveal the success or failure of these ventures. Still, such time-saving innovations, blessed by a consumer-friendly price tag and drivers’ peace of mind far from their home base, will serve as signposts toward the horizon of sustainable vehicle electrification.
Updated as of December 7, 2022: Before charging becomes rapid-fire, drawbacks must be overcome. A Popular Mechanics website article admonishes that charging stations and batteries already in place will have to be redesigned to handle the huge increase in amperage these projects will provide. Yet having access to a cable that can handle the heat of this amperage is a key to the process. These technological advances should soon start to make rapid charging commonplace.