The rapidly evolving electric vehicle (EV) market is driving innovation in EV technology and associated infrastructure. ABB maintains its position at the forefront of EV technology through a combination of in-house research and development (R&D) investment and collaboration with expert partners.
Frank Muehlon ABB E-Mobility Infrastructure Solutions Heidelberg, Germany, firstname.lastname@example.org
Growth in the EV market is undoubtedly gaining pace, with some commentators predicting that by 2040 there will be 559 million EVs on the road and 33 percent of the global fleet will be electrically powered . Already, however, much progress has been made in the journey toward this more sustainable transport landscape. As evidence of the trend, ABB is witnessing surging demand for public and private EV charging solutions, having sold more than 10,500 DC fast chargers across 73 countries by 2019. ABB is also helping stakeholders across the globe establish electric bus services that reduce human impact on the environment →1.
To deliver its vision of a sustainable, emission-free future – and satisfy increasing demand from the EV field – ABB needs to continually innovate and develop new solutions. ABB’s long engineering history and strong R&D culture are significant factors in the company’s ability to advance pioneering technologies in the area of electric mobility. For example, ABB was a joint founder of the CHAdeMO and CCS alliance charging standards. ABB launched its first DC fast charger in 2010, the first nationwide DC charging networks in 2012 and the first eBus charging networks in Europe in 2016.
Sustainable transportation for the future
ABB believes there are three key underlying challenges related to the delivery of sustainable transportation.
Firstly, investment in the sector must continue to increase – not only investment by vehicle original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for the improvement of battery technology to enable greater range and cost efficiencies, but also investments by others in a widespread charging infrastructure network to satisfy growing demand. In many markets, the current situation presents a quite different picture. When one looks at the United States, for example, while 200,000 EVs were sold in 2017, there was no commensurate expansion in the country’s charging infrastructure. This inadequacy causes consumers to lack confidence and suffer from range anxiety – both of which are major barriers to EV adoption. In response, ABB is collaborating with Electrify America – a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group of America that is a major owner and manager of EV infrastructure in the United States and Canada – to create the largest network of fast charging stations the country has ever seen. Secondly, attention must be focused on standardization and operability. The automotive industry need only look at the electric public transport sector to see that adoption rates increase significantly with decreasing numbers of charging standards. To create positive change for the future, this approach must be replicated for passenger vehicles. Here, close collaboration between the parties involved will be crucial.
Thirdly, the world has to accept that its energy ecosystem has to evolve in order to enable an emission-free future. One key aspect of this future ecosystem is the provision of a reliable power infrastructure with low maintenance costs that enables cities to comfortably address peaks in demand. Safe, flexible and smart electrical networks are of crucial importance for the accommodation of such peaks. Here, for example, the integration of energy resources, the installation of smarter home technologies linked to private EV charging and the adoption of EVs with expanded battery capabilities could turn homes into self-sufficient grids. Energy stored in electric car batteries could be sold back to the grid, enabling residential and commercial communities to become active participants in the energy revolution. In this context, ABB is currently developing a bidirectional DC home charger and is working closely with energy aggregators to set up reliable infrastructure solutions.
Futureproofing with high-power charging
Currently, the pace of change, in both the commercial and consumer markets, is being set by the need for faster and higher-power charging. The sector is, however, faced by one key challenge: the capacity of current EV batteries. At the moment, DC charging is still too powerful for most consumer vehicles, though this may change with the imminent launch of the first consumer car – as a 2020 model – capable of taking this power: the Porsche Taycan.
Even though current EV batteries do not have the capacity to store the level of charge available from a high-power charger, products such as ABB’s Terra HP (high-power) charger serve the batteries of today and the higher-capacity batteries of tomorrow – and thus provide a futureproof solution that will support the development of next-generation EVs. Capable of delivering 350 kW of power, the Terra HP can add 200 km of range to an EV in a time (8 minutes) not much longer than it takes to refuel a traditional petrol-engined vehicle.
Meanwhile, for buses and trucks, the industry is currently limited to a maximum charge of 600 kW. ABB is confident, though, that there is potential for evolution here too, with 1 MW charging on the horizon. ABB’s $10 million investment in a new R&D center, opened in September 2019, includes provision of facilities for increasing ABB’s capabilities in the rapidly expanding eBus segment, which will facilitate pioneering ABB solutions in this field.
The power of collaboration
Hand in hand with technological progress comes the need for greater collaboration, which is a powerful enabler of innovation within the EV field. Working with other high-profile players allows ABB to push the boundaries of technology and develop new solutions. With the EV sector evolving at such a rapid rate, this need for collaboration is greater than ever. ABB continues to work closely with OEMs and charge-point operators to ensure technology not only meets, but exceeds, current needs, so as to facilitate future growth. For example, ABB – in conjunction with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the Land Transport Authority of Singapore and Volvo Buses – has just launched, in Singapore, the world’s first fully electric, autonomous 12 m passenger bus →1. This flagship project aims to prove that it is possible to provide fixed route and scheduled services powered by emission-free vehicles and demonstrates the remarkable advances that can be made in public transportation when the two pioneering technologies of EVs and autonomous vehicles come together.
Taking the art of the possible one step further, ABB continually pushes the boundaries of what e-mobility technology can deliver. For instance, ABB is the title partner of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship series – a class of motorsport that uses only electric-powered cars. The series provides a powerful platform upon which to test mobility electrification and digitalization technologies while showcasing their potential to a much wider audience. Fast battery charging for Formula E cars provides one good example of this innovation in action.
Latest Formula E cars have a maximum speed of 280 km/h and are capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.8 s – thanks largely to significant gains in battery efficiency →2. The battery fitted to the new Gen2 racecars is heavier than the unit used in its predecessors, which raced during the first four seasons of ABB Formula E, but it has almost double the energy capacity. For a weight gain of 65 kg (to 385 from 320 kg), capacity has increased to 54 from 28 kWh – a 95 percent increase in capacity for a 20 percent weight gain. This rate of progress now allows Gen2 cars to complete a full 45 min race distance on a single charge.
This technological evolution is also becoming a reality in mainstream vehicles. For example, the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series of motorsport features racing versions of the same Jaguar I-PACE electric SUVs that are now sold to consumers and that use everyday charging stations. Enabling this move from the “civil” world to the racing world required lateral thinking by ABB’s technology experts, who developed a solution that would quickly recharge the batteries of up to 20 I-PACE eTROPHY race cars during breaks between practice, qualifying and races in 10 different cities on four continents during the season.
The most obvious solution here was a DC fast charger. However, these chargers, which are designed for public use, are 2.2 m tall, making them too big to fit into the cargo holds of the jetliners that transport the series’ racers and equipment around the world. Working collaboratively, a solution was developed that repackaged the functionality of a DC fast charger into a package on wheels, with a profile only 1.5 meters high →3 – 5.
This case illustrates well how the big challenges that e-mobility presents can be met with innovative engineering and collaboration.
The future for e-mobility technology
The e-mobility market is full of opportunities for players that range from the developers of next-generation vehicles and supporting components to charging technology providers, charging operators, utilities and participants in the renewables sector. ABB is seeing bold portfolio diversification moves by companies – including some of the main energy providers and OEMs – that allow them to impact new parts of the value chain, particularly in the operation of charging stations. In Europe, for example, ABB is the main technology partner of, and supplier to, IONITY – a joint venture between the BMW Group, Daimler AG, the Ford Motor Company and the Volkswagen Group, with Audi and Porsche, that aims to operate a network of about 400 fast charging stations across 24 European countries by 2020. As is the case on the North American continent with Electrify America, for whom ABB is also a key technology partner, IONITY is a leader in the European high-power charging field. The sheer size and technical prowess of each of IONITY’s constituent members mean that they are more joint collaboration partners who will drive the e-mobility rollout rather than simply customers. Ultimately, it is this collaborative approach and continual investment in new technology that will shape the future of e-mobility for generations to come.