Scientists develop electric vehicle ‘supercharger’

Electric vehicle charging
Conventional chargers produce around 3.3kW of energy which means that they take around eight hours to fully charge a vehicle. As our system uses approximately 10kW of power, it can charge the same vehicle within two hours.
Dr Saeid Haghbin
Swedish scientists have created a novel on-board system capable of charging electric vehicles in super-fast times. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have developed a high-power integrated motor drive and battery charger that shortens the charging time for electric vehicles from eight to two hours within domestic settings. In addition to its superior speed, the system costs around $2,000 less to produce than its competitors.

Provided that the source electricity is generated in an environmentally friendly manner, the widespread adoption of electric vehicles could lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions. However, concerns over battery life and charging time have led some to question whether electric vehicles can offer a viable transportation model for the future.

In order to shorten the period of time required to replenish an electric vehicle’s energy supply, the Chalmers team utilised on-board components not typically involved in the charging process. The researchers succeeded in increasing charging power – and reducing cost – by integrating the electric motor and inverter into the charger circuit.

I spoke to participating researcher Saeid Haghbin, Doctor of Electric Power Engineering at Chalmers, to learn more about how this system works and what it can do.

"Our system is designed to be used with ‘plug-in’ vehicles that do not drive and charge at the same time," Dr Haghbin began. "This type of vehicle must be connected to the grid in order to be charged, i.e. it has to be parked. Whilst charging is taking place, the car’s electric motor and inverter are idle. We wanted to exploit the free parts by including them within the battery’s charger circuit.

Faster charging


"By integrating these high-power components into the circuit, we managed to increase the charging power," he continued. "Conventional chargers produce around 3.3kW of energy which means that they take around eight hours to fully charge a vehicle. As our system uses approximately 10kW of power, it can charge the same vehicle within two hours. Of course, the exact charging rates will depend upon the vehicle in question. I am merely offering some of the typical numbers."

Chalmers team
Dr Haghbin and his co-workers have developed unique solutions for both isolated and non-isolated integrated electrical vehicle chargers
In addition to reducing average charging times, the new system is significantly cheaper than its competitors. I asked Dr Haghbin how he and his colleagues managed to achieve this seemingly contradictory combination of speed and economy.

"When you design a charger, you have two options," he explained. "You can produce either an isolated or a non-isolated system. Each of these options comes with its own associated advantages and disadvantages. An isolated charging system, for example, is much easier to install than one that is not isolated. However, non-isolated systems have better efficiency. Essentially, instead of opting for an isolated battery charger, our system uses a specially designed split-phase electric motor to charge the vehicle’s battery."

Dr Haghbin concedes that the ideal situation would be to have a device capable of fully charging an electric vehicle within five to 10 minutes. Whilst such systems do exist, they cost in excess of $100,000 and are not suitable for installation within domestic settings.

"These sorts of system are actually available right now," Dr Haghbin explained. "However, due to their large size, they are separate from the vehicle itself. High-powered chargers such as these can only be installed at fuelling stations. Unfortunately, the price of installation is also really high."

Optimisation


Although preliminary results appear promising, the team’s integrated charger is still at the laboratory stage. Further research will be necessary in order to optimise the design. Even so, the product has already resulted in both Swedish and international patents, and the research has garnered interest from industrial partners. So, what are the next steps for the Chalmers scientists?

"Our project has received significant support from members of Sweden’s automotive industry," Dr Haghbin concluded. "At present, we are working in conjunction with AB Volvo to enhance, and ultimately, commercialise our system. The development process is ongoing."

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