Shorter Range EVs Could Be Key to Wider Adoption

More consumers might go electric if charging times matched conventional vehicle refueling times.

December 19, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—What if electric vehicles could power up in the same amount of time it takes to fill a gasoline-powered car with fuel? Some EV experts believe this future path the industry should be focusing on to garner more widespread EV adoption, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The trend toward higher-range EVs, which includes bigger batteries and therefore, a higher cost, is not conducive to wider adoption of EVs, these experts say. Instead, vehicles with smaller batteries and a more limited range is the way to go because they could charge quicker and cost less overall.

According to a Bloomberg study, U.S. electric vehicle shoppers want an EV with a range of at least 300 miles, and less than 10% of those surveyed would buy an EV with a charge range of 200 miles or less. However, 95% of car trips in the U.S. are 30 miles or less.

Also, more than a third of EV owners don’t have access to home charging, which is how most EV drivers charge their vehicles, so the ability to recharge an EV in the same amount or slightly more time than it takes to fill up with fuel might make EVs more attractive to consumers.

The biggest hurdle to EV affordability is the batteries. In 2022, the cost of batteries was slightly more than it was in 2021, and carrying more battery to extend range not only costs more, but it also renders them less efficient because of the associated excess weight. Additionally, the raw materials that go into the manufacturing of these batteries are in perennial short supply, so capacity to make more batteries could be constrained for a long time, says the Journal.

According to Dr. Halle Cheeseman, a 40-year veteran of the commercial battery industry, what limits charging speed is the chemistry of the battery anode, which is the negatively charged terminal. Most anodes are comprised of graphite, which is increasingly scarce and expensive. Replacing graphite with silicon is a promising way to sidestep this issue, and it can also make charging faster.

Another way to increase the charging speed of EVs would be to switch to “lithium metal” batteries. According to Dr. Eric Wachsman, director of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute at the University of Maryland, lithium metal batteries can be part of solid-state batteries which don’t contain the liquid that most other kinds of batteries do. Dr. Wachsman told the Journal that charging conventional batteries too fast causes the lithium to “plate out” on the anode as sheets of lithium metal, rendering the battery inoperable. In a solid-state battery, the lithium is already a metal, and the charge is moved in a different way than in liquid batteries, sidestepping the plating problem.

Some EV companies already promise cars with a quick charge and a high range. The 2023 Kia EV6 electric crossover SUV has a range of 310 miles and can power up from a 10% charge to 80% in 18 minutes, for example, but it must be connected to a DC fast charger. While many DC fast chargers exist in the U.S., locating one that can deliver at its maximum rated capacity is a challenge. Charging times can be affected by outside temperature, battery condition and if other vehicles are plugging in at the same charging station.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. has nearly 50,000 public chargers, but only about 6,600 fast chargers, and of that amount, 1,600 are Tesla chargers.

However, it could be possible to ramp up the battery charging rate without reinventing the battery or relying on DC fast chargers. Scientists at Idaho National Laboratory have successfully found a way to charge an EV fast using software to increase and decrease the amount of current being fed into a vehicle’s battery, resulting in charging speeds that are 1.5 to two times faster.

The Journal reports that experts and researchers who work on EV batteries are convinced that better batteries will soon be available. “Battery technology in general is moving a lot faster than it used to,” Dr. Eric Dufek, a scientist at Idaho National Laboratory, told the Journal.

NACS has created the EV Charging Calculator, which allows retailers to assess the cost and profitability of offering EV chargers at their sites. The calculator focuses on what retailer utility costs associated with EV recharging are and what the corresponding revenue must be to recover those costs after allowing for potential ancillary in-store visits and purchase profitability.

The Convenience Matters podcast, “Where Do EVs Make the Most Sense?” examines the findings from a Fuels Institute study looking at life-cycle emissions for EVs and fuel-powered vehicles. NACS also has a topics page on electric vehicles.