Electronic Vehicles, Range Anxiety and Possible Solution

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With smart cars and the movement toward cleaner energy, the future of automobiles seems to be electric. For many people, their next car will most probably be an electric vehicle (EV). But as with most things, the environmental benefits of battery-powered cars come with a tradeoff, which in this case is the driving distance the EV can support with its current battery.

Dr. Yverick Pascal Rangom, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Waterloo claims that the current technical hurdle he’s tackling is fast charging. “The first group to achieve this will have the most leverage and opportunity in the industry. We still have a long way to go to get this technology to everyone.”

Although most EVs can be plugged into a standard outlet for charging, getting a full charge can take hours, so if you forget to charge your car overnight you might be in serious trouble. A possible solution can be a dedicated EV home charger, but most home infrastructures do not have the electrical capacity to power them, and the upgrade can be costly.

When driving a gas-powered vehicle, even when the tank is running on fumes the driver knows they can always find a gas station nearby. But EV owners still struggle with “range anxiety” and fear being stranded without the ability to charge their car if they drive too far from a charging station.

To solve this issue, EV manufacturing companies and their suppliers are working to improve both charging time and battery capacity. Rangom’s search to solve this problem focuses on improving the performance of lithium-ion (Li-ion) and sodium-ion (Na-ion) battery electrodes, capacitors and future solid-state batteries.

Chemical batteries like those found in EVs have two sides—the anode and the cathode. During charging, a chemical reaction occurs in the battery, electrons are released from the cathode side and pass through the circuit toward the anode side.

Rangom’s research primarily involves improving the anode side, which typically uses graphite or silicon. He is exploring alternative electrode architectures to replace the non-conductive structural elements of today’s electrodes to achieve faster charging. “I’m trying not to stray from lithium-ion batteries because we already have a lot of infrastructure that is in place,” he says.