Elon Musk is at the cutting edge of automotive technology. His Tesla cars became a more viable alternative to conventional ones running on fossil fuels when he rolled out his super-charge stations offering a 30-minute charge time. Then in May he announced an upgrade that shortened it to 20 minutes. The latest announcement from his chief technology officer JB Straubel is that they are aiming to cut that again, perhaps to five minutes – pretty well the time it takes to fill a tank with regular fuel. The secret is high power charging. Conventional public charging stations operate at below 10kw, and popular fast-charging at 50kw. The goal is now 120kw. Fast chargers convert AC to DC power outside the vehicle, but at high power there are problems to be solved.
One challenge of fast charging is that delivering power to a battery very rapidly can cause it to overheat. To avoid damaging the battery, the outside charger needs to communicate with the electronics that monitor the state of the batteries, including their voltage and temperature, and quickly adjust charging rates accordingly. “To do that kind of charging, everything has to be designed and working in perfect synchrony,” Straubel says.
To increase the number of places that can handle 120kw ultra-fast charging, Tesla plans solar panels and storage batteries at its supercharging stations. It’s great to watch these developments following thick and fast upon each other. At the end of this road is the stuff we used to see in futuristic comics, a world in which electric, non-polluting, computer-controlled driverless cars whisk their occupants safely to their destinations at high speeds. It could come about even more rapidly if Tesla succeed with their plan to market cars in the $30,000 to $50,000 range within a few years.
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