Getting an electric vehicle to charge up as quickly as a gasmobile is the dream of thousands of researchers and engineers around the world, and the Ford Motor Company may have just found the one person who could make it real. If you’re guessing it has something to do with a new battery, well, maybe. However, as it turns out, the secret to super fast EV charging happens before the juice even reaches the battery.
The Long Road To Super Fast EV Charging
Ford is already leaning on its popular legacy brands to give it an edge on parts of the EV market. In recent months the company has introduced an all-electric version of its Transit van, electrified the legendary Mustang name, and pumped zero emission juice into the powerful F-150 pickup.
Cost used to be one major obstacle between electric vehicles and the buying public, but price points are dropping quickly. The next major hurdle is the pace of electric vehicle charging, and Ford believes it has the pole position in that area, too.
The person behind Ford’s new fast EV charging technology is Issam Mudawar, the current Betty Ruth and Milton B. Hollander Family professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, and to get some perspective on how big of a deal this is, let’s meet the late, noted Purdue supporter and alumnus Milton B. Hollander and his accomplished wife Betty Ruth.
Milton Hollander’s name is stamped all over “pioneering breakthroughs in welding, energy storage, food processing, automation, process measurement and control,” as Purdue tells it. Don’t just take their word for it. Hollander earned more than 200 patents to prove it.
November being National Veterans Appreciation Month, let’s also note that Hollander enlisted in the US Army at age 17 after graduating from Bayonne Technical High School in New Jersey, in 1946. He served in Korea and later enrolled in Purdue on the GI Bill, then earned advanced degrees at MIT and Columbia University while continuing to work full time.
Betty Ruth was his lifelong partner in many endeavors in and outside the fields of commerce and science. Here’s Purdue again:
“The Hollanders were passionate champions of Made-in-USA manufacturing, American workers, and their families. They were also generous supporters of education, hospitals, medical research, public libraries, veterans, and Jewish causes—serving on many institutions’ boards of directors.”
All this is by way of saying that Professor Mudawar has some big shoes to fill.
Ford & Super Fast Electric Vehicle Charging, Thanks To The Cable Guy
Where were we? Oh right, the secret to fast EV charging. Mudawar and his Purdue University researchers have hooked up with a team from Ford to develop a new charging station cable to go along with some type of mysterious new charging technology that could make it “even easier for people to transition to EVs with seamless re-charging.”
All of this is a bit hush-hush due to pending patents and what-not, but Michael Degner, Ford’s senior technical leader of its Research and Advanced Engineering division, notes that the new technology will resolve a key bottleneck that limits the pace at which electric vehicles can charge up.
“Today, chargers are limited in how quickly they can charge an EV’s battery due to the danger of overheating. Charging faster requires more current to travel through the charging cable,” Degner explains. “The higher the current, the greater the amount of heat that has to be removed to keep the cable operational.”
Mudawar and his team have come up with a new twist on conventional cooling technology. Their approach is based on his extensive research in the area of liquids and temperatures.
“Purdue researchers are focusing on an alternative cooling method by designing a charging cable that can deliver an increased current,” Ford explains. “The cable uses liquid as an active cooling agent, which can help extract more heat from the cable by changing phase from liquid to vapor – the key difference between this and current liquid-cooled technology on the market.”
The Long Road To Super-Duper Fast EV Charging
Sweet. Don’t hold your breath for the new technology, though. Ford states that “this innovation could one day deliver significantly more power than today’s leading systems to re-charge electric vehicles,” and there is a lot of wiggle room in the timeline of “one day.”
Ford also notes that the new approach to cable cooling needs to be implemented in tandem with “other vehicle charging and other technology enhancements” in order to realize the dream of making it just as quick and easy to recharge an EV as it is to fill a gasmobile with gas.
Nevertheless, Mudawar’s solution indicates that the EV revolution has only just begun. The technology still has ample room for improvement.
As one indication of the potential for additional progress, consider that Ford currently holds a stockpile of more than 2,500 patents in the US for electrification, the oldest of which date back to its earliest history, which makes sense considering that Henry Ford worked for Thomas Edison before working full time in the auto industry.
That’s nothing compared to what’s in store. It appears that the cable project with Purdue is a drop in a very large bucket, as Ford states that it currently has more than 4,000 new electrification patents pending.
We’re also guessing that Ford is eyeballing solid-state EV batteries as part of the technology package needed to bring the new charging cable online. If you have any thoughts on that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
The Electric Vehicle Revolution Has Just Begun
All of this activity puts Ford in a good position to take advantage of a new burst of federal support for the electric vehicle transition, in the form of the newly passed Infrastructure Bill.
According to our friends over at whitehouse.gov, the EV plans include $7.5 billion for a national EV charging network along highway corridors “to facilitate long-distance travel and within communities to provide convenient charging where people live, work, and shop.”
“This investment will support the President’s goal of building a nationwide network of 500,000 EV chargers to accelerate the adoption of EVs, reduce emissions, improve air quality, and create good-paying jobs across the country,” the White House adds.
Adding even more accelerant to the electric vehicle fire, utility companies are beginning to seek EV charging station buildout as the pathway for selling more kilowatts to more customers.
Ford has also gotten itself into position to navigate state-level political minefields that have been holding back electric vehicles and other clean tech in some states, most notably in Kentucky and Tennessee where Ford is establishing its new electric vehicle mega-campus along with two new EV battery factories.
As for all those federal legislators who voted for the Infrastructure Bill, don’t forget to support the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, too. The centerpiece provisions of the bill echo the legacy of Milton Hollander, by putting the wheels in motion to support more people in working outside of the home.
After all, in order to make and install all those new EV charging stations you’re going to need to put more people to work, and you can’t do that while they’re busy at home taking care of children and other dependents.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Purdue researchers at work on new EV charging cable courtesy of Ford Motor Co.
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