NASA space tech could cut EV charging times to less than 5 minutes

The new system could remove a key barrier to EV adoption.
Chris Young
Close-up hand grip plug of industrial electric charging machine.
Close-up hand grip plug of industrial electric charging machine.

Chiradech/iStock 

The people who say we shouldn't be spending so much on space missions and space technologies forget, or simply aren't aware, of the great benefit many of those technologies can have back here on Earth.

Take, for example, the many satellites used today to investigate and better understand the effects of climate change from outer space.

Now, an experimental NASA technology designed to cool equipment in space could drastically reduce electric vehicle (EV) charging times to five minutes or less, a NASA blog post reveals.

Subcooled flow boiling tested aboard the ISS

The technique, called "subcooled flow boiling," improves the transfer of heat from charging cables and could dramatically increase the amount of electrical current EV chargers today could supply to vehicles. This, in turn, would greatly reduce charging times, even allowing for a full charge from empty in as little as five minutes or less, according to NASA.

The U.S. space agency says a current of roughly 1,400 amps should be enough to charge your average car within five minutes. As a point of reference, NASA explains that advanced chargers deliver currents up to 520 amps, while standard chargers tend to provide less than 150 amps.

The trouble with going much higher than 520 amps is that the charger would start to generate significantly more heat, meaning it could be dangerous for users.

Thankfully, NASA has actually helped to test a technology that can safely cool cables carrying exceedingly high charges. A team from Purdue University developed the Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment (FBCE), which saw them run two-phase fluid flow and heat transfer experiments in the long-duration microgravity environment on the International Space Station (ISS). Essentially, they used liquid-cooled cables on the orbital station to test their method. The liquid drawn to the hot cables was in a subcooled state, meaning it was well below the boiling point.

Removing a key barrier to EV adoption

Using the FBCE technology, the Purdue University team, sponsored by NASA's Biological and Physical Sciences Division, said it achieved 2,400 amps along a cable using subcooled flow boiling. In their experiment, NASA explains, "dielectric (non-electrically conducting) liquid coolant is pumped through the charging cable, where it captures the heat generated by the current-carrying conductor."

It's worth noting that, while this is far more than the 1,400 amps required to charge a car in five minutes, it took place as part of a controlled lab experiment — it's not the same as a test on a real car in real-world conditions.

Still, as NASA points out, the new system could be used to "deliver 4.6 times the current of the fastest available electric vehicle chargers on the market today by removing up to 24.22 kilowatts of heat." All of this could remove one of the key barriers — long charging times — to electric vehicle adoption, and it's all thanks to a technology that was originally built for and tested in outer space.

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