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One Plug to Rule them All: New EV Fast-Charging System

Ford, Chrysler, GM agree on fast charging standardFord, GM, Chrysler and five top German car makers are on board with a new standard connecting system that can fast-charge an electric vehicle in as little as 15 minutes. It’s a killer combination of standardization and convenience that could break the U.S. electric car market wide open.

Standardization is the linchpin of the gasoline powered auto industry – imagine if you had to hopscotch over half a dozen gas stations to find one where the nozzle could fit into your tank – and it is even more critical for the nascent EV sector, which is in hot competition to win a foothold in the mainstream car market.

Advantage of standard fast-charging system

A standardized charging system would help to lower manufacturing costs and simplify operation at the consumer end, as somewhat dryly explained by GM:

“The combined charging approach will reduce development and infrastructure complexity, improve charging reliability, reduce the total cost-of-ownership for end customers and provide low maintenance costs.”

The new standard will also speed the transition to a two-way, interactive power grid that incorporates vehicle batteries as a significant energy source. For example, car owners could use their vehicle battery for auxiliary power at home or to run other equipment, or they could sell excess power back to the grid.

The new standard has been adopted by the Big Three U.S. auto makers along with Audi, BMW, Daimler, Porsche and Volkswagen, which are demonstrating the new charging equipment this week at the Electric Vehicle Symposium 26 in Los Angeles.

The system will also be adopted throughout Europe beginning in 2017.

So, what’s this new Combined Charging System?

Called DC Fast Charging with a Combined Charging System or “combo connector” for short, the standard was developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers International.

The combo connector is an adaptation of an existing J1772 connector that has roots in the 1990’s. According to SAE, in 2010 the original J1772 standard was updated to a five-pin connector, to accommodate charging at 120 and 240 volts.

The latest J1772 charging port has two parts. The upper section retains the configuration of the 2010 standard, which means that slow-charging EVs already on the market can transition seamlessly to the new connector.

The lower section contains a second set of pins to accommodate fast-charging battery technology that was not commercially available in 2010. All together the combo connector will enable charging up to 500 volts.

Final approval for the new standard is expected by August 2012, and SAE expects the eight U.S. and German car makers to begin production of vehicles equipped with the new J1772 in 2013.

GM learns from past EV lessons

GM pushed hard for the new global standard after its experience in developing the ill-fated EV1 in the 1990’s, according to the company’s Director of Infrastructure Planning, Britta Gross. EV1, which went into limited production but was soon pulled from the market, is the subject of the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?

In an SAE article last week by Patrick Ponticel, Gross explained:

“We [GM] learned a lot of lessons on the EV1, and we have vowed to make sure some of the hard lessons learned don’t happen again. One lesson is that we can’t go it alone on infrastructure, and on the standard for infrastructure… So we vowed on the [Chevrolet] Volt program to not proceed until the industry had condensed around charging infrastructure.”

GM apparently took no chances when developing the Volt. According to Ponticel, GM’s Engineering Specialist for Global Codes and Standards Development, Gery Kissel, also chairs the SAE International J1772 Task Force

A glitch in the global EV standardization scheme

The global picture for standardization is still complicated by Japan, which has its own fast charging system called CHAdeMO.

So far the J1772 standard hasn’t stopped Japan from positioning itself to lead in the U.S. EV market, since car makers such as Nissan and Mitsubishi offer models with ports for both CHAdeMO and J1772 charging.

However, Gross suggests that the single-port configuration will give the U.S. and German car makers an advantage in production costs and consumer convenience. There may also be some marginal savings in maintenance and replacement costs.

The split in charging standards comes as car makers vie to gain an edge in lucrative new markets, not only in the U.S. but in China, where GM just announced that along with several affiliates it already reached the million-car mark in April for the 2012 selling year, the earliest it has ever reached that goal.

On the other hand, wireless EV charging could make all of this a moot issue when the next generation of EVs rolls off the assembly line.

Image: Courtesy of GM.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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