New ‘super-fast’ method can shave EV battery charging down to minutes

Machine learning shows that even existing batteries can charge safely and speedily if you treat them right.
Close up of electric vehicle charger plugged into electric car
Vastly shorter charge times could arrive to consumers within the next five years. Deposit Photos

Electric vehicles are key to a sustainable future for the planet, but while EVs continue their steady rise within the automotive industry, many drivers remain skeptical of making the major change. There are a number of factors behind consumer hesitancy, but one of the foremost concerns is just how long it takes to recharge a car’s battery. Owners can still expect between 15 and 30 minutes to re-up their EVs for another estimated 200-300 miles, while gas stations’ rates are obviously dramatically shorter—typically only a few minutes for around 400 miles.

Last week, however, a team of government researchers at the Department of Energy-run Idaho National Laboratory announced extremely promising new advancements that could help the US achieve the Biden administration’s lofty goal of making EVs half of all automotive sales by 2030. Thanks in part to a machine learning program analyzing vast amounts of lithium-ion battery data, scientists have reportedly found a means to safely and reliably recharge EVs’ power supplies up to 90 percent within just 10 minutes.

[Related: Biden pushes forward on electric cars, clean emissions.]

“Fast charging is the key to increasing consumer confidence and overall adoption of electric vehicles,” Idaho National Laboratory researcher Eric Dufek said in a release. “It would allow vehicle charging to be very similar to filling up at a gas station.”

When an EV’s lithium-ion battery charges, the ions migrate from the cathode to the anode. Faster migration means faster charging, but as researchers explained, this currently means lithium ions sometimes don’t fully make over to the anode, resulting in lithium metal buildups that cause battery failure, cathode cracking, and even explosions.

Achieving the charging goal required massive data troves to determine new methods that could quickly restore battery charges without doing significant, often irreparable damage to the battery itself. As The Washington Post explained last week, Dufek and colleagues designed an algorithm that analyzed somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 data points from various kinds of lithium-ion batteries to determine the most efficient and safe recharging method, which they then tested on real batteries. The results created “unique charging protocols” based on the physics of what is exactly happening within batteries during charging and usage. The end goal, according to researchers, is to develop EVs that are able to “tell” charging stations how to recharge based on a vehicle’s specific battery.

[Related: Why Dyson is going all-in on solid-state batteries.]

The resultant designs drastically reduced charge times without sacrificing battery health and consumer safety. With faster charge times, car makers could also conceivably introduce vehicles with smaller (i.e. cheaper) batteries, thus lowering the economic barrier many face when considering EV purchases. And although Dufek and colleagues estimate consumers won’t see these kinds of charge times for EVs for about another 5 years, the prospect of such advancements will help solidify electric cars as the viable alternative to fossil fuel transportation moving forward.