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🚗⚡ The Art of Fast Charging 🚗⚡
Fast recharge times are perhaps the only internal combustion frontier yet to be conquered by electric vehicles (EVs). While most find it convenient to plug in overnight, slow charge-ups remain a major barrier to electrification adoption.
Extreme fast charging can also unlock new market segments. When our Amazon overlords decide to rain Prime packages onto our heads via their horde of urban last-mile delivery drones, they will prefer fast-charging over absolute energy density to maximize “air-time” within local neighbourhoods. Other commercial fleets (buses/vans/forklifts) may adjust battery pack sizing towards other operating and cost optimums too.
Startups and R&D efforts have targeted fast charging from every perceivable scale. We tried to sketch up some of the strategies:
Echion Technologies tackling charging from different angles
Forcing higher currents can cause a molecular traffic jam on the lithium-ion highway, leading to plating, degradation, and potential thermal runaway.
One company tackling this from an intrinsic material scale is Echion Technologies. In recent exciting news, Echion just announced a £10m Series A round this month. The funding round has been led by CBMM - the world’s leading supplier of niobium products and BGF - the UK and Ireland’s most active and dynamic investor of equity capital in growth economy companies, with the University of Cambridge, Origin Capital and other existing shareholders also taking part.
The University of Cambridge spinout has developed a Mixed Niobium Oxide anode material, capable of a 6 min (10C) charge from 0-100% using a cost-efficient and high-cycle life cell design. The Niobium anodes could be critical for high-power low-downtime applications like EVs, drones, and premium electronics for example. With their anodes, Echion claims outstanding fast charging capabilities operating at safe voltages and excellent durability, all operable with standard manufacturing techniques.
We had a sneak peek of Echion’s whitepaper which discusses the fast charging business case to lower the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for OEMs and EV end users. They detail the anode materials landscape today including lithium metal, silicon, as well as other more baseline products like graphite and LTO. We look forward to sharing when the whitepaper is public.
What’s exciting is that Echion announced a joint collaboration with multinational chemicals company Johnson Mathey to commercialise their technology. This will bring the Niobium anodes into existing battery manufacturing lines as an off-the-shelf solution, launching Echion into a highly competitive space. Current major players include Japanese giant Toshiba, which is exploring adding niobium to their LTO lineup, anode Cambridge spinout Nyobolt, and Israel-based germanium-silicon startup StoreDot.
Other fast charging developments
Companies like GBatteries (adaptive pulsed charging to minimize degradation), and NIO (adopting innovative battery swap business models), are approaching fast charging limitations at different scales.
This topic is also hot with many academic teams looking at other novel ways to tackle the problem, including work with novel electrolytes from Jeff Dahn’s group, electrode microstructures from Partha Mukherjee’s group, electrode materials from Ping Liu’s group, among many others. The industrial and academic communities are firing on all cylinders to find solutions to encourage market adoption of EVs.
Is fast-charging the final hurdle to EV adoption?
Beyond the rare long-distance road trip, many have challenged the true demand for a 5-minute EV ultra-fast charge. In the majority of use cases, consumers are happy sticking to an overnight charge.
But for other businesses, this may be transformative - the benefits of fast charging catalyze the electrification of fleets, buses, trucks, and more. Industries like mining and warehousing rely heavily on long operating requirements, running for many hours, and on tight schedules. With fast charging gradually being introduced, organizations should start planning how their business can be elevated in the future.
As these chemistry-level solutions are evaluated by commercial partners and come into the market, we’re optimistic to see how business can be transformed with the use of novel battery technologies.
💬 Battery Chats: Jean de la Verpillière, Echion Technologies
We sat down virtually with Jean to learn more about Echion’s developments and upcoming exciting news.
Jean de la Verpillière is the CEO and Co-Founder of Echion Technologies, a Cambridge UK-based, battery technology startup that spun out of the University of Cambridge in March 2017. Echion Technologies enables superfast charging capabilities in lithium-ion batteries without compromise, through its proprietary Mixed Niobium Oxide (MNO) anode technology. Over the last year, the company has passed many significant milestones, including the demonstration of its technology in commercial-sized 3Ah pouch cells, establishing industrial partnerships to develop cells for the automotive market, and production scale-up.
Echion is keen to hear from other cell or battery material manufacturers who wish to evaluate Echion products.
🚀 Fast charging: industry movement
🌞 Thanks for reading!
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About us: Andrew is a PhD researcher at the University of Oxford (@ndrewwang). Nicholas is a Business Manager at UCL Business and Venture Fellow with Berkeley SkyDeck (@nicholasyiu). Ethan is a battery scientist and researcher in Jeff Dahn’s Research Group (@ethandalter).