Simply electrifying: The best charging technologies for electric cars

The automotive industry is planning to build a network of 400 fast-charging stations along Europe’s main traffic routes by the year 2020. The goal is to make electric mobility a viable option for long-distance travel; with high-power charging technology, it will be faster and more convenient. Germany is on its way to becoming a global trailblazer in charging stations.

A coffee break is all you need. Then you can drive several hundred miles on the highway. Ionity, a joint venture established by BMW, Daimler, Ford, and Volkswagen (along with Audi and Porsche), ensures that electric vehicles can charge quickly. Ionity has agreed to build around 400 fast-charging stations along the main traffic routes of Europe, each station being roughly 75 miles from the next. It plans to provide charging capacities of up to 350 kw based on the international charging standard CCS (Combined Charging System), which is standard in Europe. “The availability of an extensive high-power charging network is essential for electric mobility to penetrate the market,” says Dr. Michael Hajesch, head of Ionity. The Shell oil and gas company has also reacted to the energy transition and is participating in the construction of the charging infrastructure through the Ionity consortium. In order to build up this infrastructure as quickly as possible, Ionity is also working together with the Tank & Rast rest-stop company, which operates the most gas stations and service areas along the highways.

High-power charging along the highway is a milestone for electric mobility, as many drivers still worry about the range of electric cars; a good charging infrastructure will dispel any anxiety over range. The Ionity project is sure to be a success, as the need for charging stations will increase with rising demand for electric vehicles. German automobile manufacturers have announced that over 100 different hybrid and electric vehicle models will be produced in the next five years.

Safety for users and certainty for investors with the CCS standard

With scores of new vehicle models and a dense charging network, Germany will become a showcase project for electric mobility. This will be achieved not only through private-sector initiatives, but also with government participation in grid connections and charging station construction. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) has launched a subsidy program for this. With the federal charging infrastructure subsidy, the BMVI is supporting the construction of 5,000 quick-charging stations with 200 million euros, and is providing 100 million euros for 10,000 normal charging stations intended primarily for slower charging in cities.

Electric mobility will assert itself only if it is suitable for everyday use. That means drivers of electric cars need numerous, easily accessible, and easy-to-use charging stations with a universal charging plug. Within the framework of EU and national regulations concerning charging stations, the CCS system is stipulated as the minimum requirement for charging stations; it thus ensures user safety for electric vehicle drivers and provides certainty for investors in the charging infrastructure. The international Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN) has dedicated itself to promoting this global charging standard. Members include VW, BMW, Daimler, Ford, and Opel, as well as international automotive suppliers and companies from the electronics industry – further members are Japanese and Korean electric car manufacturers, as well as Tesla, which has been using its own charging system.

20 minutes for a 250 mile range

At the same time, technologies that improve charging speed are advancing rapidly. In the summer of 2017, Porsche introduced the world’s first public fast-charging station, with liquid-cooled 800-volt technology, in Berlin. Charging with up to 350 kw is also possible there. According to the manufacturer, enough power for 250 miles can be charged within 15 to 20 minutes. The first production vehicle that can be charged with the 800-volt technology is the Porsche Mission E, scheduled for 2019.

Although all electric cars have had to be charged using a cable until now, automobile manufacturers are working on inductive solutions, which do not require a cable connection between the vehicle and the charging station. The charging procedure is simple: The car is parked over an area with a charging coil, which transfers power to a secondary coil in the vehicle via a magnetic field without any contact. The first series-production vehicles that can charge using this technology are likely to be introduced by BMW and Mercedes. Meanwhile, the automotive supplier and software industries are improving convenient, user-friendly charging. For example, logging into an inductive charging station is to take place automatically when a vehicle approaches a correspondingly equipped parking space. The dashboard display informs the driver when the correct position has been reached and the charging process begins.

Charging while driving on the highway

In the future, wireless charging will be routine and widely available in public areas: at supermarkets, traffic lights, railway crossings, and taxi stands. It also might be possible while driving if induction plates are installed in the right lane. The members of CharIN are also committed to establishing a common standard for inductive charging. As with standardization in conductive charging, this will build user trust and provide companies with a higher security of investment. “Electric cars will have greater ranges and shorter charging times,” says Claas Bracklo, chairman of CharIN. “The charging stations are being standardized and are becoming more powerful, which will give more impetus to electric mobility.”