BMW, Porsche Demo Super-Fast Electric Car Charger

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Electric vehicles may soon eliminate one of the most often cited pain points for owners: It takes a long time to recharge them. BMW and Porsche have all demoed technologies that could juice up electric vehicles considerably faster than current charging methods. These test vehicles showed that it’s possible to get most of a charge from a high-power cable in just a few minutes, but it’ll require new vehicles and infrastructure.

Both companies are part of the FastCharge consortium, a collection of companies looking at ways to faster-charging vehicles and the infrastructure to support them. BMW and Porsche demoed similar systems relying on a 450kW charger, but Porsche pushed the power higher. The Porsche electric prototype vehicle set a record charging at 400kW. It picked up 100 km (62 miles) of range in just three minutes. The experimental BMW i3 took it a little slower at 350kW. That was still enough to push the battery from 10 to 80 percent in 15 minutes.

The system works at up to 900 volts and 500 amps—multiply those, and you get 450,000 watts or 450kW. That’s about 25,000 times faster than your average smartphone fast charger. Porsche was able to get closer to the charger’s maximum speed thanks to a cooling rig that kept its 90kWh battery stable.

The charger BMW and Porsche used isn’t some bespoke piece of hardware that could never work in the real world. The FastCharge consortium is building technology compatible with Europe’s standard Combined Charging System (CCS). Tesla has also pledged to support that system.

The time it takes to charge an electric vehicle is one of the primary reasons for slow adoption. Even when a consumer can afford a higher-priced EV, they often pass because of the compromises they have to make to keep it charged. Current vehicles charge at a fraction of the speed demoed by BMW and Porsche. Tesla has done the most to make fast vehicle charging viable, but its cars only charge at a maximum of 120kW right now. Audi’s less popular e-Tron vehicles can output 150kW. Tesla plans to begin rolling out enhanced super chargers next year, but those will only boost the speed to double what it is right now.

Automotive companies believe charging speeds could be boosted by a factor of five without shortening a battery’s life. It may be a few years before these ultra-fast vehicle chargers show up, but EV sales might take off when they become commonplace.

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