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ABB makes EV charging breakthrough

Super conductor: A fleet of 12 electric buses in Switzerland’s capital will use 13 flash charging stations to stay charged, but the new technology could be used to improve privately-owned EVs.

Supercapacitor fast charging bus line could change the game for electric vehicles


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9 Aug 2016

SWISS automation and power giant ABB has won a contract to commission a service of electric buses in Geneva that can automatically connect to a charger in less than a second and drive for hours on a series of 15-second ‘flash charges’.

The $16 million ($A21m) contract with the Swiss capital was awarded after the successful trial of a prototype system that required a complete rethink of how electric vehicles are charged and used on a daily basis.

While most EV manufacturers look to resolve so-called range anxiety with large batteries and boosted energy density, the ABB bus combines significant advances in charging and energy cell technology to top up a smaller battery faster and more often.

Just as small city cars do not need to carry enough fuel to cross the Nullarbor Plain for a majority of day-to-day trips, the special network of flash chargers allow the Geneva bus fleet to operate with a shorter range, topping up with a smaller charge more frequently.

For the bus route to be feasible, ABB had to develop a charger that was both fast to connect and could administer a sufficient boost in only seconds.

Lasers guide a roof-mounted contact into the overhead charger automatically as the bus arrives, and a supercapacitor rams a 600kW charge into the battery while passengers are boarding and alighting. A slower charging system located at the depot can deliver a full charge in just minutes, says ABB.

The charger grid is critical to the operation of the buses, but if similar infrastructure could be established for privately owned vehicles it could remove the need for long overnight charging periods and large batteries in cars.

In the case of Telsa’s Model S large sedan, a significant chunk of the vehicle’s weight is accounted for by the massive underfloor battery, but if an owner had the ability to charge their EV more frequently and automatically, the adoption of smaller, lighter and cheaper batteries would be possible.

A network of automatic car flash chargers may be a distant vision of the future, but ABB’s innovations for the project are likely to improve EVs and their feasibility in the short term.

If a conventional wall charger is like turning on a mains tap, the ABB rapid charging technology’s supercapacitors are the equivalent of reservoirs, which can deliver a store of far larger quantities of electricity in a shorter time.

Unlike trams and a recent electric road for trucks in Sweden, the ABB system only requires intermittent overhead installations and not extensive overhead wire infrastructure which is unsightly and more difficult to maintain.

“We are proud of this breakthrough technology to support Geneva’s vision of providing a silent and zero-emission urban mass transportation for the city,” said ABB power grids division president Claudio Facchin.

“It provides a model for future urban transport and reinforces our vision of sustainable mobility for a better world. As part of our Next Level strategy, we are committed to developing customer-focused solutions and technologies that help lower environmental impact.”

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