Could Charging EVs Be as Fast as Refilling a Gas Tank?

Electric cars have been dubbed the next frontier of vehicular travel as countries around the world scramble to cut their carbon emissions in a bid to curb climate change. Instead of an internal combustion engine, electric vehicles (“EVs”) use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery coupled with an electric motor for power. Despite their obvious environmental benefits, not everyone is sold on electric vehicles, and slow charging rates are partly to blame.

Unlike filling up a petrol or diesel-powered car, which can be done in as little as five minutes, electric vehicles take quite a while to recharge. Even with fast charging infrastructure, it will take a driver at least 30 minutes to charge an electric vehicle to 80%. For those who own a Tesla, one of the company’s supercharging stations can add up to 200 miles of range in 15 minutes. Although that’s pretty fast, it still pales in comparison to the relative ease and speed of filling a tank with gas and hitting the road without having to worry about where the next charging station is.

Consequently, battery makers have been working on improving charging speeds for electric vehicle batteries while maintaining their integrity and safety. These efforts include the development of new materials for the lithium-ion batteries that EVs currently use, as well as solid state batteries, which use a solid electrolyte rather than a liquid one. Unfortunately, fast charging tends to make batteries overheat and degrade. In worst-case scenarios, high charging speeds can lead to a phenomenon called lithium plating, which can make the battery catch fire or even worse, explode.

As such, all electric vehicle batteries are programmed to take in electricity at lower speeds to keep them from degrading or catching on fire. For fast charging to become the norm, battery makers will have to develop batteries that won’t succumb to lithium plating. Echion Technologies, a UK-based startup, has developed an anode made of niobium that doesn’t allow lithium plating and can be charged super fast. But since these anodes aren’t as energy-dense as graphite cathodes, they currently can’t be used in EVs because this means reduced range on a single charge.

Another power developing alternative battery technology is Solid Power. The company, which has the backing of Ford and BMW Group, is developing solid-state batteries that employ silicon anodes instead of graphite. They can be recharge to 50% capacity in just 15 minutes, and chief technology officer Joshua Buettner-Garrett says Solid Power is hoping to achieve full recharge rates in only 20 minutes. Most of the research on alternative battery components, while quite encouraging, is still in its infancy and will take a couple of years for it to go mainstream.

Even if this technology is perfected, the electricity grid may not be able to support thousands or hundreds of thousands of fast-charging stations. A fast-charging station draws at least 400 volts from the grid, and if everyone were to ditch their fossil fuel cars for EVs, the grid would be put under immense stress. A perfect balance between home charging, office charging and public stations would reduce this strain and keep grid operators from burning dirtier fuels in a bid to support a vast network of fast-charging stations.

As new players such as Net Element (NASDAQ: NETE) join the electric vehicle sector, superior solutions are likely to be found to address many of the issues that have been slowing the uptake of these eco-friendly vehicles.

NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to Net Element (NASDAQ: NETE) are available in the company’s newsroom at http://ibn.fm/NETE

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