Sunday, August 28, 2011

Quicker Battery Charging Is Another Way To SlayThe Range-Anxiety Beast

Auto reviewers, most of whom do seem to love their loud and precious ICE cars, never hesitate to talk about “range anxiety” when writing about electric vehicles, as if nobody driving a gasoline-powered car has ever run out of fuel and as if the EV technologies we have today — which are pretty darned good — will never get better or more affordable. That said, range anxiety is an issue, even if it has been overplayed in the press, so the future success of EVs is partly tied to developing less expensive batteries with higher energy densities than what we have today. What’s often overlooked, however, is the role that fast-charging technologies can play in tackling range anxiety. After all, does it matter if you can only drive 100 kilometres if, along the way, you can dip into a station and recharge your battery in just a few minutes?

That’s increasingly the thinking when it comes to buses. Indeed, General Motors announced today it has invested $6 million (U.S.) in Proterra Inc., which builds buses that can travel up to 40 miles before recharging and can recharge in 10 minutes. Buses often stop for several minutes at major pickup points. A Proterra bus has fast-charge technology mounted on its roof. When it pulls into a designated charging spot, it connects to an overhead system that charges the bus’ 54 lithium-titanate battery packs, each one rated 72-kilowatt-hours and supplied by Altairnano. The idea is that quick charging allows you to cut battery cost and weight, contingent on access to enough quick-charge locations. General Motors’ investment in Proterra was part of a larger $30-million round led by Kleiner Perkins. You can read more about the investment here.

This idea of quick-charging for buses has been around for a while. In 2009 I wrote about a Chinese company called Sinautec Automobile Technologies that builds buses that use ultracapacitors for storage. The buses could only go three or so miles before having to recharge, but charging took only two minutes and, unlike batteries, the ultracapacitor packs can be almost infinitely cycled. It’s an approach that might not make sense for an urban bus route, but certainly it could be ideal for a university campus or airport.

This ability to charge rapidly is what gets me excited about ultracapacitor innovations that could, eventually, replace conventional batteries in EVs. To me, an EV that could travel at least 200 miles (300 kilometres) on a single charge and recharge in two minutes would be ideal. Even if you did run out of juice — again, just as you can driving a gas-powered car — an AAA/CAA driver could easily pull over and have you charged up in minutes. No biggy.

View the original article here

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