Is 350-Kilowatt Ultra-Fast Charging the Future of EV Refueling?

By · October 20, 2016

Audi's upcoming long-range e-tron quattro could benefit from much faster public EV charging.

With the imminent release of affordable 200-plus mile electric cars, there is a pressing need for public charging that is much faster than today's so-called Quick Charging. Anticipating the need for public EV charging with output “up to 350 kilowatts,” an alliance of European carmakers this week officially launched a network of 25 “ultra-fast” chargers to be used by buses and trucks, as well as eventually passenger vehicles.

The introduction of very fast chargers—far exceeding the 50-kW CHAdeMO public chargers or even Tesla’s 120-kW Superchargers—is being organized by Ultra-E, a project of the European Commission’s trans-European transport network (TEN-T). The deployment will likely include locations in Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The previous generation of electric cars, starting in 2010, had a driving range of around 80 miles. Many consumers believed that 80 to 100 miles was not sufficient—and yet, those EVs could be charged to about 80-percent capacity in around 30 minutes using a public Quick Charger. Now that longer range electric cars (other than Teslas) are emerging at an affordable price, the industry is seeking solutions for faster charging—allowing road trips rather than common commuting distances.

"The addition of ultra-charging capabilities is a pre-requisite for the successful roll-out for the new generation of battery-electric vehicles with larger batteries, as announced by many European OEMs,” said Helmut Morsi, European Commission adviser DG-Move, Coordinator for Innovation & New Technologies. “Let me congratulate the Ultra-E consortium for their bold move and courage despite the risk.”

Quick Versus Ultra-Fast

There are several interrelated factors that affect how many miles of range can be added in a pit stop at today’s Quick Chargers. Commonly a Nissan LEAF can add about 50 to 60 miles of range in around 30 minutes—while a half-hour of charging Tesla Model S using a Supercharger can exceed 125 miles of added range in a half-hour. It’s tricky to pinpoint the exact speed because a completely empty battery charges faster than one with a relatively higher state-of-charge. (Hint: It's faster to show up at a charger when your battery has less juice.)

The goal of the European project is to allow passenger vehicles to use 350-kW chargers by about 2018—and thereby add close to 300 kilometers (or 190 miles) in about 20 minutes. Those speeds, while still requiring more time than filling a gasoline-powered vehicle, might be enough to satisfy the needs of a new generation of EV drivers. For road trips, it would likely mean stopping for 30 minutes to charge for every four or so hours of highway driving.

The 2018 target date for the European Ultra-E project could coincide with Audi’s release of its e-tron quattro, an all-electric SUV with close to 300 miles of driving range. Audi previously announced that it’s developing a network of 150-kilowatt fast chargers. Siegfried Pint, Audi's chief of electric powertrains, told that such a charger could add about a couple hundred miles of driving range in around 30 minutes. (Again, your mileage may vary, especially because these systems are not yet tested with everyday drivers.)

Audi is one of the partners in the 350-kW project—along with BMW and Renault. Other brands reported to be creating charging protocols much faster than today’s systems include Porsche and Mercedes.

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