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Has a university solved rapid charging for electric cars?

Study suggests ‘internal thermal modulation’ is the answer to charging batteries quickly

Published: 17 Oct 2022

You know how manufacturers often boast about ‘thermal management systems’ that’ll prime your electric car’s battery for optimum charging? Turns out it’s an untapped science that could unlock much faster charging times.

A study conducted by Penn State University and battery tech company EC Power - published in Nature last week - suggests that heating cells internally leads to vastly improved charging performance and durability.

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‘But wait,’ we hear you ask. ‘Don’t EVs come with clever heating tech already?’ They do, but these are usually external systems that tend to be bulky and not terribly efficient.

Instead researchers have tried using an ultra-thin layer of nickel to heat batteries from within, leading to 70 per cent charges taking as little as 10 minutes. And that’s over 2,000 cycles too, which the team reckons will amount to a lifespan of about 500,000 miles. Longer than most cars could ever dream of covering, in other words.

“The need for smaller, faster-charging batteries is greater than ever,” said Chao-Yang Wang, professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State and founder of EC Power. “There are simply not enough batteries and critical raw materials, especially those produced domestically, to meet anticipated demand.”

Wang argues that faster-charging batteries would mean drivers would feel more comfortable charging more regularly for shorter periods, with no reliance on the kind of hour-long stops that are often required at today’s rapid-charging stations.

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“Our fast-charging technology works for most energy-dense batteries and will open a new possibility to downsize electric vehicle batteries from 150 to 50kWh without causing drivers to feel range anxiety,” Wang added. “The smaller, faster-charging batteries will dramatically cut down battery cost and usage of critical raw materials such as cobalt, graphite and lithium, enabling mass adoption of affordable electric cars.”

Sounds promising, right? Now all we need is rapid-charging cables on every forecourt

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