Author(s): Raghu Gopal
It feels inevitable that the world will shift away from traditional combustion engines to greener, more-efficient solutions. The change will happen at a different pace around the globe. For example, supported by government incentives, falling battery costs and economies of scale, all new cars sold in Europe are expected to be electric within the next two decades.
While the prices of electric cars have been falling, "range anxiety" continues to be a major stumbling block, alongside the inconvenience of long charging times. Owning an electric car needs to be as convenient as using one with a conventional combustion engine.
This week, British firm Zap&Go demonstrated a major breakthrough of its Instant Charging technology, which uses carbon-ion cells to charge batteries in a matter of seconds. It's an intriguing technology and it's easy to picture the scenario of almost magical charging.
Zap&Go was spun out of Oxford University in 2013. The company has harnessed carbon-ion technology and applied it to a wide range of markets and industries with exciting results. The technology, in contrast to lithium-ion, is based on nanomaterials including graphene, much-touted as a "wonder material".
According to Zap&Go's CEO, Stephen Voller, the "goal is five minutes to a 100 percent charge, which is about the same time it takes to fill a tank with gasoline or diesel today".
More than 1 million electric vehicles are expected to be sold this year and auto-makers are taking note of the surge in demand. Some have already committed to making a quarter or more of their output battery-powered within the next decade.
Governments, too, have been vocal in their support of electric vehicles, using incentives on one side of the equation and stricter regulations on the other. France, for example, has announced it will ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. A host of other nations, including China, India and Germany, have launched major incentives for the proliferation of clean vehicles. Volvo recently announced it will end development of new cars with conventional gasoline engines. Beginning in 2019, Volvo says that all of its new models will be hybrids or battery-powered electric vehicles.
Battery-powered vehicles and appliances can take hours to charge completely. Charging overnight is usually needed to ensure a full charge. This makes the potential of Zap&Go's technology particularly captivating. A snail-paced routine could be replaced by one that takes seconds. It's comforting to know that charging technologies that almost seem magical are at least approaching commercialization, but the proof will be in delivery. We've seen numerous fast-charging initiatives over the years that have initially been greeted with a fanfare but have failed to live up to expectations. Zap&Go will need to provide solid evidence its technology is a game-changer.