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Can this new EV battery make EV charging just as convenient as gas pumping?

Updated: Aug 25

CATL's battery
Image Credit: CATL // Illustrations by Nate Merrit
  • Electric vehicles are taking off, but there are still steep hurdles the industry needs to clear in order to get the vast majority of American car buyers on board.

  • One of the biggest moments for pause when it comes to considering an EV is range anxiety: the fear that an EV will not have enough battery charge to reach its destination.

  • Plus even though some EVs can charge in as little as 20 minutes (with others taking hours) most Americans want the EV charging to take as long as pumping a full tank of gas.

  • That’s why a new innovation in battery tech is a big deal. CATL, the world’s biggest EV battery manufacturer announced its new battery, Shenxing, which if it works, would be able to add 250 miles of range in just 10 minutes and deliver 435 miles on a full charge.

  • If commercialized, this would make EV range even better than or on par with many gas cars, which range from 300-480 miles for a small car to 345-720 for SUVs and trucks.

Right now, gas pumping is generally, pretty convenient.

You notice your tank is closer to E than F, you pull over to the nearest gas station, and you fill up for (usually) a few bucks a gallon, even as gas prices continue to rise — topping $7 a gallon at one Florida station. Still, you’re typically in and out of the gas station faster than you can say “Why on Earth are gas prices so high?”

However, electric vehicle charging is, admittedly, a tad more complicated. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, charging an EV from empty can take as little as 20 minutes to upwards of 40 hours depending on the level of equipment and battery size.

With direct current fast chargers like Tesla’s Supercharger — which due to a series of deals from Kentucky and likely more states mandating it to automakers like Ford and Rivian entering its pearly gates, it may slowly be becoming America’s main charging type — the range is only 20 minutes to an hour. Nevertheless, even a half hour is still too much for the majority of Americans, especially when many still deal with EV range anxiety.

Take it from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in his rant about electrification in lieu of this week’s GOP debates: “The happiest moment for somebody in an electric car is the first 10 minutes. In other words, you get it charged, and now for 10 minutes. The unhappiest part is the next hour because you’re petrified that you’re not going to find another charger.”

While he’s not entirely correct about the range of EVs — a full tank from a DC fast charger outputs 180-240 miles — his comments underscore sentiments from the main reasons Americans have yet to fully convert to EVs: fear of charging, or rather, lack thereof.

Nevertheless, EVs clearly aren’t going anywhere soon. Globally, they now make up 14% of car sales as of 2022, and by 2030 the Biden administration has a goal to make half of all new car sales electric, as part of the push for total decarbonization come 2050.

After all, haven’t you noticed that just about all car commercials in the last few years have advertised EVs? That’s why innovators in the space are trying to lessen the charging time and improve the range faster than a Tesla in a drag race.

One piece of recent big news is from CATL, a Chinese battery giant and the world’s biggest EV battery manufacturer, which announced last week that it can add up to 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) of range in just 10 minutes of charging. On a full charge, it delivers 700 kilometers or about 435 miles. This more than doubles the delivery promise of its competitors. For example, Tesla’s fast charging adds up to roughly 320 kilometers, or 200 miles, of range in 15 minutes.

As a poll by Reuters shows, 35% of Americans surveyed want EVs with ranges of 500 miles, which most are currently unable to offer.

While it might not take 10 minutes to pump gas, by the time someone runs into the gas station for a quick snack, lottery ticket, or cold drink (amid the current massive midwest heatwave), pays, and comes back out, their car will be charged with an unbeatable range.

CATL’s new battery is called Shenxing and according to the company it’s “the world’s first 4C superfast charging LFP [a type of lithium-ion] battery.”

 Dr. Wu Kai, Chief Scientist of CATL, speaking at the launch event
Dr. Wu Kai, Chief Scientist of CATL, speaking at the launch event (Image Credit: CATL)

The new battery, if it works, could change the game in the EV world. Along with Toyota’s July announcement that boasts a battery that may be able to deliver over 750 miles within 10 minutes of charging, CATL’s announcement may be one of the first dominoes falling in a new era of commercialized super fast-charging batteries. After all, the company supplies battery cells to major automakers including Tesla, Mercedes, and Volkswagon.

And the company isn’t stopping at EV batteries either — it plans to super batteries for airplanes and to mass-produce new EV batteries built from sodium instead of lithium, amid worry over lithium supply and ethics.

As an in-depth report by the MIT Technology Review explains, the type of batteries CATL has are already commercially available, but for energy storage. CATL is the first to put them in cars. The Tech Review’s Casey Crownhart does a great job of going into the engineering science behind the batteries, but the crux of it is this: every part of the battery is working together to make charging faster while contributing to the range.

However, what CATL still needs to make clear is how large the vehicle or the battery will need to be in order to deliver on its tall order, leading to the question of whether it can be applied in the average sedan or soccer mom minivan.

Plus, these higher charging times may come with a cost, the Tech Review points out, showing that higher charging times typically equate with shorter battery lifetimes, a glaring issue when despite the EV boom, the lack of battery recycling is still a pervasive problem. Not to mention the critical role that actual charging infrastructure will play in ensuring the full potential of the batteries is realized.

Still, CATL confirmed that the warranty on this battery remains the same as its others: eight years or 100,000 miles, the same as the average EV and hybrid battery.

“The future of the EV battery technology must remain steadfastly anchored at the global technology frontier as well as the economic benefits,” said Dr. Wu Kai, the chief scientist at CATL, speaking at the company’s launch event.

“As EV consumers shift from pioneering users to ordinary users, we should make advanced technology accessible for all and enable everyone to savor the fruits of innovation.”

Edited to include article summation at the beginning.

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