GBatteries has been working on a new EV charging solution that it believes will slash charging times while preserving the longevity of lithium-ion batteries. CleanTechnica connected with GBatteries’ co-founder Tim Sherstyuk to dig into the solution that sounds too good to be true to see if its claims hold water.
Tim told me about how his father had built up what sounded a bit like Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, but for electronics, in his basement. He would spend hours down there with his dad on various projects, experiments and the like, just tinkering with different technologies and solutions. It was in one of these sessions that the father-son pair started discussion the possibility of a new way of charging lithium-ion batteries that could result in faster charging times with less wear and tear on the batteries themselves.
They landed on an idea that looked promising and filed their first patent in March of 2012. They spent a few more years perfecting the technologies before seeking funding in 2014 and have only ramped up the pace of innovations since then. A wave of patents from GBatteries in the EV charging solutions, EV charging battery, and EV charging connector fields followed as they explored the potential of their core idea. Tim told us that the company has, “Spent the last 2 years in stealth mode,” to let them further hone their technology and its use cases.
GBatteries’ core solution leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms to intelligently leverage the concept of pulse charging to deliver the maximum power a battery can accept, when the battery can accept it. Pulse charging has been known to allow batteries to charge faster, and with less degradation, but it is GBatteries’ AI that is really the secret sauce.
Traditional charging stations talk with the car to determine the maximum capability and instantaneous maximum charging rates for each vehicle, but they are not asking about what is best for the car, just what the maximum is. When that has been determined, they open up the proverbial fire hose of power and just push, push, push power into the vehicle’s battery.
Tim talked about this, noting that with current charging technology, “The faster you charge your battery, the faster it degrades.” Many automotive manufacturers, including Tesla, even have disclaimers about using fast charging due to the negative effect it has on the longevity of the battery. You see, current vehicle battery management systems don’t have the capability to look at what is best for the battery at each and every moment, but this is what GBatteries’ solution does.
Its integrated AI looks at key battery health indicators and determines what the instantaneous max charging rate should be. “We are monitoring what’s happening in the battery pack in realtime,” Tim told us. The AI uses these instantaneous charging rates to coordinate a delicate dance of charging pulses that feed power into the battery at the optimal time for the battery. It turns out that batteries are actually very dynamic and tapping into the needs of each specific battery allows the charging system to cook up a custom charging session for its unique needs.
The solution builds on the finding that during charging, lithium ions flock to the anode of a battery, effectively causing traffic in the battery, which shows up as internal resistance. Internal resistance produces heat and ultimately causes slower charging times and more wear on the battery, according to a patent application from GBatteries.
“In an equivalent circuit model, the concentration gradients are modeled as internal resistances and have a negative effect on the battery efficiency during both charging and discharging cycles. If a battery has large internal resistance then a large portion of its stored energy will be dissipated internally by the internal resistance when it is discharging and will not be delivered to the load. Similarly the internal resistance will dissipate energy during charging making charging less efficient. A battery’s storage capacity is therefore diminished by internal resistance.”
Leveraging pulse charging gives the battery small breathing breaks in between charging cycles that allow those cluttered up ions to dissipate inside the battery. This reduces internal resistance, resulting in less heat, better battery health, and allows for faster charging rates.
Pulse charging was the starting point, and the team has continued to perfect the solution as more funding has come in, allowing them to expand their team, expanding beyond their humble beginnings in their basement lab. Building on pulse charging, the team found that a double tap of pulses improved the battery’s ability to recover between each charging pulse. The innovation is the equivalent of tapping the battery on the shoulder to ask if it’s ok to send more power before opening up the fire hydrant of power.
“When a short discharge pulse is applied prior to each charging pulse, this improves the charging process of the battery. When a short charging pulse is applied prior to each discharging pulse, this improves the battery recovery between discharging pulses and increases the battery storage capacity,” the patent application states.
The Current State
I know, I know, at this point, you’re ready to charge into the fray with your hard earned money and get this thing off the ground with a new Kickstarter campaign. The beautiful thing is that the solutions are being tested and perfected with off-the-shelf batteries and devices. GBatteries demonstrated the tech at CES 2019 back in January with a normal cordless drill. “We’ve also demonstrated our battery working on a small battery pack,” Tim told me.
Using their tech, the battery was able to charge in a staggering 11 minutes, 19 seconds. Yeah, it’s a tiny battery, and that’s the challenge ahead. GBatteries is already working to integrate their charging tech into smaller consumer products, but the real solution they aspire to build is a fully baked solution for electric vehicles. Accomplishing this requires careful coordination between the vehicle and the charging station, but we’re skipping ahead.
At present, the GBatteries team is working to scale up the packs the tech works with at both higher voltages and higher capacities. “We’ve also scaled up the technology to work on higher voltage battery packs,” Tim said. Much like Tesla’s packs that start with cells that are bundled together into modules that form the basis for the full battery pack in the vehicle, each stepping stone along the way to scale must be validated.
They are working with a handful of automotive OEMs, who are understandably excited by the prospect of faster charging times. “We have several pilot projects with manufacturers around the world,” Tim said. “They have electronics in the vehicle that are restricting charging rates.” Fluctuations in incoming power are generally a bad thing, but that’s actually the secret sauce in GBatteries’ tech and what makes is work so well. That’s exactly why they need to work with automotive manufacturers directly, to define a new charging communication paradigm that plays nicely with both the onboard battery pack and GBatteries’ charging logic.
The pie in the sky goal for Tim and his team at GBatteries is to leverage charging station intelligence to slash charging times. “Our eventual goal is a full electric vehicle and that’s a 400v battery pack,” he said. The solution they envision for EVs would sit between the car and the charger, like an oversized laptop dongle much like the CHAdeMO to Tesla adapters do. He doesn’t believe that any physical modifications to the cars are necessary, but he believes logic changes will be required for them to play nicely with the new charging profiles.
“Right now, we’re working on an EV module,” he said. It’s still early in the R&D process, which makes it hard to predict when the tech will pass each of the development milestones along the way to an actual product. The next step is to integrate the tech into a battery pack and Tim was confident in his team’s ability to get there based on the steady progress they’ve made to date.
Through the development of their technology on increasingly larger packs, the team noticed an interesting and exciting phenomenon. Most lithium-ion packs heat up when they are charging. That’s true all the way from the single cell up to the largest Powerpack installation. Heat buildup can lead to a thermal runaway event that can cause a fire or other unsafe condition.
“If you measure the surface temperature of a battery while it is charging with our technology, the heating is very low, like maybe 5 degrees C,” Tim said. “The amount of heat that is generated is much lower,” than on a traditional lithium-ion charging system. That’s a great external indicator that their charging tech is not only faster, but that the method it is using to charge the batteries is better for the batteries. Less heat translates to a longer life expectancy for batteries, not to mention the safety implications.
The early results from GBatteries’ new charging technology is promising, but very real hurdles still exist before you can expect GBatteries’ EV charging dongles showing up at an EV charging station near you. For more information about GBatteries, check out the video below or head over to the official website.
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