Coulomb Promises Gas-Pump-Style EV Rapid Charging

Chargepoint Rapid Charging

Coulomb Technologies and Aker Wade Power Technologies announced this week an agreement to develop public charging stations capable of charging an electric vehicle in 30 minutes or less. The so-called Level 3 charging stations, which look a lot like gas pumps, feed power from dedicated 480-volt, 125-amp circuits. The companies said the charging stations will be available for purchase by fall 2010 for about $40,000, plus about $20,000 for installation.

Allowing electric car drivers to fully recharge in 30 minutes via a 480-volt station could alleviate “range anxiety”—the concern that a pure electric car could run out of energy and its driver could be stranded for hours until the vehicle is adequately recharged. Charging an electric car using a 240-volt source could take four to eight hours, while a standard 120-volt outlet requires twice as much time.

Uncertain Future

Major auto companies introducing pure electric cars in the next year or two are divided on the feasibility of rapid charging. The Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV will come with rapid charging connectors. Ford has not announced the kind of connectors it will use for the Ford Focus EV, but Greg Frenette, Ford manager of battery electric vehicle applications, is skeptical about Level 3 charging.

“With coming improvements in lithium ion [battery] technology, charge times will be reduced to as little as fifteen minutes. This is the point where consumers will abandon gasoline for electricity.”

Bret Aker, CEO
Aker Wade Power Technologies

In September 2009, Frenette told, “You can’t just charge batteries at any level without some sort of impact on safety, battery life, reliability and durability. I’m not one that believes there’s a viable solution—given where battery chemistries and technologies are today—that says you can charge these batteries in two or three minutes and send them on their way.”

The move by California-based Coulomb Technologies to introduce fast charging equipment could reduce a risky reliance on selling 220-volt and 110-volt chargers that are cheaper to install at homes or businesses. Electricity is nearly ubiquitous, and businesses of all kinds could install charging stations to lure EV-driving customers seeking a so-called “opportunity charge.” As the number of electric cars on US roads expands, the emergence of an open system of free or low-cost charging stations could make it difficult for companies—such as Coulomb and Better Place—to succeed with fee-based proprietary charging networks.

Gas-Pump Metaphor

In a press release, Aker Wade Power Technologies CEO Bret Aker said, “With coming improvements in lithium ion [battery] technology, charge times will be reduced to as little as fifteen minutes. This is the point where consumers will abandon gasoline for electricity.” Aker Wade has sold more than 8,000 rapid-chargers for industrial uses, such as airport vehicles and fork lifts.

But is the gas station pump the wrong metaphor for consumers? Perhaps electric car owners are seeking a new paradigm that grants more freedom to control where they get energy for their vehicles.

Pike Research, a clean tech analyst firm, forecasts 1 million car charging installations by 2015—but most of them will be private. According to John Gartner, an analyst at Pike, early buyers of electric cars—which will be expensive—will be affluent and will see public charging as less convenient than pulling into the garage or driveway for a fill-up. “A high percentage of early adopters are likely to have home residential access to charging,” Gartner told “They will probably pay for the installation themselves just for the convenience of home charging.”

There are plans for rapid-charging highway corridors—like between San Francisco and Los Angeles—but the economics and physics don’t make sense, according to Gartner. Electric vehicle range is reduced at highway speeds, therefore requiring rapid-chargers every 80 miles or so. The high installation cost and the relatively low number of potential customers is “a hard economic sell,” said Gartner.

Pike also forecasts that gas-electric plug-in hybrids—such as the Chevy Volt and Plug-in Prius—will be adopted much faster by consumers than pure electric cars with more limited range. Plug-in hybrids combine electric and gas power to provide a driving range that matches or exceeds conventional vehicles. “Plug-in hybrids get you there,” said Gartner. “Eighty percent of the problem solved. You have the gasoline engine as your backup.”

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  • ex-EV1 driver

    I see there being 3 types of charging:
    – Home charging
    – Convenience charging
    – Fast charging
    Home charging would be overnight and would need to permit you to charge your car for the next day’s normal driving while you sleep. For the average person, that would mean 40 miles of range in 8 hours but I suspect that more useful would be at least 120 miles in 4 hours to accommodate above average driving users who have more need for an EV. That would mean about 30 kWhr in 4 hours or about 8 kW charging (240v, 30A). This is very easy to do. A normal electric dryer, range, or spa needs this in the US today so it is a normal thing to provide in any house and batteries can easily handle it.

    Convenience Charging is charging somewhere besides home, where you expect to (or someone wants you to) spend some time. This includes Airports, restaurants, shopping establishments, entertainment venues, or employers. The same kind of charger as a home charger will suffice as it will provide about 28 miles of driving for every hour charged.

    Fast Charging would be for long road trips or unexpectedly many quick errands where one has to go long distances between charging opportunities. For this faster is better since one is not doing something else besides charging. The issue is: how fast can one go: EV batteries have been charged in less than 10 minutes for 100 miles of range and I’m sure that with the right battery type and management, it can probably go even faster. It is expensive, however, to make or modify batteries or chargers that can charge that fast. I guess the question is then: How fast is it worth to make them charge? Charging for 100 miles of range in less than an hour is quite easy, just as your cellphone or laptop computer can charge in an hour. It mainly requires a standard industrial 440V 3-phase connection to the power grid. It gets harder/more expensive as you go faster (most batteries have to be cooled in order to fast charge). The optimal point between cost and convenience lies, I guess will be up to the industry and consumers to figure out, probably through trial and error.
    This is no different for how the auto industry decided to put big enough gas tanks in cars today to go between 250 and 400 miles between charges (oops, I meant fillups:-)
    Today, the Tesla Roadster can charge for 100 miles of real highway driving in about 2 hours. The EV1 would take about 4 hours for the same range. From personal experience with both, I can tell you that this is inconvenient compared to an ICE vehicle. I suspect that the happy point where I’d be willing to take an EV instead of an ICE lies somewhere between 45 and 30 minutes of charging every 120 to 150 miles or about the time it takes to grab a cup of coffee, use the bathroom, or grab a quick meal every 2 to 3 hours.

  • Shines

    Here’s an off the wall idea for freeway charging. Along long stretches of freeway install “Charge Rails” Something like a cross between an automatic car wash and the 3rd rail of electric train tracks. As you are driving down the freeway you have the option of pulling over and “linking to a ‘Charge rail.'” The car is in some fashion hooked up and recharges while it rolls along at a reduced speed for maybe 5 miles. At the end of the charge rail (or maybe the beginning) you pay for the charge. During the process you are still moving along towards your destination as the battery is recharged. Seems to me some variation of this would be feasible.
    This idea shows another potential advantage of electric power – it can be transferred by contact (no need to pour a fuel into a tank).

  • alancamp

    I really don’t see anyone driving to a ‘Electric Station’ and waiting :30 minutes for the car to charge on a regular basis. Only for emergencies or to extend a long trip on full electric.

    Charging should be where the car is idle for the longest periods of time. At home, at work or for convenience at the mall, restaurants, gyms, etc. But the mindset behind people who want to go electric, is that the also don’t want to be ‘buying’ fuel of any type from a third party for more than they can get it at home.

  • Anonymous

    30 minutes does sound kind of long, but could be done while taking a break (e.g. eating, napping, washroom breaks). So it’s not too bad I guess

  • Dom

    I know I sure don’t want to sit around twiddling my thumbs for 30 minutes at a “charge station” waiting for an EV to charge, ESPECIALLY on a long road trip!! And even if we do have charge stations, or charge spots at places like restaurants and shopping malls, I’d be willing to bet the cost to charge up an EV from a station like that will be significantly higher than home electricity rates… somebody has to pay for the charge equipment, and the electricity… it’ll be the consumer of course. I don’t think the idea of free charging stations are going last long if EVs actually do start selling. If you want an EV you’re going to have to pay for it.

  • Max Reid

    $60,000 is very affordable. A Liquid pump like Ethanol or Gasolene or Diesel may
    cost more than %500,000.

    Initially this could be installed in Post Office and Public Libraries.
    Once the Plugin & EV base starts expanding, all other
    Food Chains
    could start installing.

    Plugin owners would like to get Electricity wherever its available, since its much
    cheaper than gas and could get faster Return on Investment. Slowly EV’s could also
    use it.

    After all, everone will spend atleast 30 minutes when they goto Libraries, Retailers,
    Malls. Even in Post Office where we may spend 15 minutes, the Cars battery will be
    charged atleast upto 50% which is good enough.

    Very good start, would like to see in my Local Library & Post office.

  • Max Reid

    Tokyo Electric Power signs up with Aker Wade for charging stations.
    Thats a good news for this company.

    Another company also has charging station product. More are coming in.
    Infact, China has 20 million E-Scooter and E-Bikes. Such products in USA
    may also start using, provided their batteries have provision. All it needs
    is the charging station to be installed, slowly people will start buying
    Plugins and EV’s of all types.

  • Mr.Bear

    $60,000 might be affordable for a gas station that sells fuel. It doesn’t work so well for Joe’s grocery store who is providing a “convenience” for his customers.

    A 3rd rail on a highway? You know how many miles of road there is? You know how expensive that would be? And your taxes would be raised to pay for the electricty. Never mind the liability of having a high voltage line running down every road. And what if a car crashed into it during a rain storm.

    30 minutes a charge isn’t what I’d call convenient for a road trip. But I doubt that time could be shortened for safe charging.

  • Max Reid

    Nissan has made a bold attempt to sell their Leaf EV.

    If Leaf EV is used as Postal delivery car, whether it will
    gets its return on Investment compare to Versa which is a similar
    sized car.

    Lets calculate.

    Postal cars run for 8 hours / day. Since they may drive for only 50 miles / day and stay idle for most of the time, lets assume that its equivalent to driving 200 miles / day.

    At 300 days / years of service and a 10 year life, they may drive
    200 * 300 * 100 = 600,000 miles in vehicles lifetime.

    At stop and go traffic, Versa may give 30 miles / gallon
    So 600,000 / 30 = 20,000 gallons of fuel.
    At $2.7/ gallon, 20,000 * 2.8 =
    $56,000 for fuel
    $15,000 for vehicle
    $71,000 total.

    Leaf costs 4 cents / mile. So 600,000 * 0.04 = $24,000
    Even if the vehicle costs $45,000, including electricity, it will
    comes to $69,000.

    So Electric Leaf is cheaper than Gasolene based Versa. If you add the cost of oil change for Versa, cost wil be even more favorable for Leaf.

    Cost for Leaf will be even more favorable in places like California
    where gas prices are higher.

  • Max Reid

    Mr Bear

    I did not mean Joe’s grocery store. I meant big retailers like Walmart, Target, K-Mart who have plenty of space in the parking lot. They can dedicate 2 or 3 slots initially for EV with this Coulomb Charger with the hose that could extend to 2 or 3 slots away.

    The 30 – 60 minutes a person spends in the store, they might get their vehicle charged.

    Lets assume I have a Plugin Prius with 13 mile range. I go to few stores and discharge my battery, I can go to this Walmart as my last store and charge my vehicle fully and go back to my Home with my car on Electricity and also more money in my wallet.

    I also appreciate your 3rd rail concept, however people could sometime cross the highway, in case their vehicle has problem and could get shock. In order to prevent this, the 3rd rail should also have the activator which should release electricity when vehicle goes over and not when the humans cross. This system is available in some Light Rail Networks.

    Other way could be to keep the 3rd rail a few inches under the road with the vehicles having a rod that goes deep under to touch the rail while humans cannot. This will enable us to cover 100 of miles of our highway driving without worrying about the battery range.

    There are few other companies which are selling UltraCapacitors which could charge very quickly, this could also be deployed for faster charging for shorter distances.

    The electric future is closer to us.

  • Liz Russell

    As a business owner, I’d need to see where the profit margin is for this. First, 480v is a lot of electricity. I bet that I’m not wired for that. Who pays for those upgrades? What about to the transformer and lines bringing the electricty to me?

    Second, I can’t sell electricity. Only the utility can do that. I have to charge a service fee for using the charger. Let’s say I charge $5 to use my charger. Using the model for gas stations and assuming each person uses the charger for 30 minutes, I’ll get about 10 customers a day for a fast charge. At $5 each, that 3.2 years before I break even…if I never have to pay for a service call, buy a new part or pay for vandalism. Plus, I bet my insurance goes up, the city will require other upgrades for the permit, and I lose either a gas pump or a few parking spots–both of which will cost me other business.

    Don’t tell me that government incentives will cover the cost. That’s not a sustainable business model. We don’t need another ethanol that depends on an endless stream of taxpayer money.

    Fast chargers need a business case.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I don’t know what kind of business you run, however, I only see a need for the 480v fast charging on the highways and interstates, where people might be willing to pay money for the speed.
    I can see it in the interest of the roadside businesses to offer it to draw people off the highways, into their establishments for a while. The speed of charging would probably match the time they want people inside. I’d see fast-food places and convenience stores offering pretty quick charging so that people can come in, eat quickly, then get back on the road. Sit-down restaurants and places that want people to spend some time might offer charging times around an hour to 2, possibly at a discount, in order to make it easy for them to spend money. Outlet malls might offer slow charging for free, just to get you to spend some time and money.
    I agree that the traditional gas station model probably doesn’t work. The gas station model assumes you’re going there for gas but they make the money off of the convenience store. A gas station takes hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to maintain. A charger is quite cheap. Installing an 8 to 15 kW charger (240v/30 to 60amps) costs less than $10K in most cases. This is a lot less that the cost of installing a streetlight in your parking lot and certainly a lot less that the cost of the land that is reserved for a parking space in many places. There is very little maintenance required on chargers since there are so few moving parts. Most of the thousands of public chargers installed in California in the late ’90’s are still fully functional after over a decade with zero maintenance.
    You’re right about it being illegal to sell electricity but you can charge for parking or the service as you point out [for a 10 kW charger, at $0.10/kWhr, the electricity costs $1/hour]. Personally, I’m not sure it even makes sense to charge money. I suspect that the most value comes from drawing people into your establishment and keeping them captive for an amount of time.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I can’t see it being very economical to run many miles of 3rd rail but it is an intriguing idea. I drove my EV1 in San Francisco a few times and thought how tempting it would be to put a couple of poles on it to grab electricity from the electric bus overhead wires that run down several of SF’s streets.
    Since the EV1 was a lease and was taken away from me before I’d have been ready to start hacking on it, I never got the chance to be crazy and actually try.
    Maybe some day.

  • Max Reid

    Liz : Dont try to jump in and make a money right away. You cannot charge $5 for using the charger, since people would like to pay money only for the kwh of electricity they consume. You can only charge a few cents premium / kwh.

    As I said, initially its the Post Offices, Public Libraries, Big Stores who are going to install this, only as the number of Plugins & EVs increases, small business owners can get in.

    It will take some time, so you have to wait.

  • sting

    Hmmmm a 15 minute rapid charge will do for a hundred miles and this chargers can be put in a small area of a gasoline station or a convenience store. Other than that the owners of these establishments if safe would put wifi hotspots on those establishments so people will have time using their laptops or pda’s while waiting. On the other hand i hope these ev manufacturers would add solar panels on the roofs of those vehicles for trickle charge and ensure their 100 mile trip before charging again

  • Idea

    I’m not literate on electrical charging. But rather than having high power stations, what happens if an EV is able to connect more than one charge outlets? Can this achieve faster charging? Sort of the like good old days of dial up modem trying to achieve higher speeds by combine two independent data streams.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    What you suggest can help up to a point, assuming that your charging speed is limited by the power available.
    Charging speed is determined by the power put into the battery.
    This can be limited by the ability of the battery to handle the amount of power into it as well as the amount of power that can be supplied.

    Just as a bit of electrical engineering background, the Power (P) is determined by the Voltage (V) available and the Current (I – not sure why Electrical folks use I as the abbreviation for Current but they do so let’s just follow convention). The formula is simply P=I x V.
    Normal US home wiring provides two 120 Volt ‘rails’ from the grid, into the house electrical breaker box. Most outlets and lights in the house take one of these 120 Volt ‘rails’ to operate. High Power appliances such as Air Conditioners, Electric Stoves, Electric Ovens, Electric Clothes Dryers, Spas, Pool Filters, and Electric Heating put the two 120 Volt rails together in series to provide 240 Volts.
    The current (measured in Amps) available at an outlet or the appliance is determined by the wire size and the breaker between it and the breaker box. Standard US outlets have 15 Amp breakers so they can handle 12 Amps. Electric Dryers generally have 30 Amp breakers at 240 Volts. Electric Stoves and Ovens generally have 50 Amp breakers.
    Most modern EV owners will hard wire a charger into a dedicated 240 Volt circuit. The RAV4EV and the EV1 drew 30 Amps so they required a 40 Amp (a little extra) circuit at 240 Volts.
    The Tesla Roadster is very flexible. You can set it to draw anything from 12 Amps to 70 Amps at anywhere between 120 Volts and 240 Volts. You charge faster as either the voltage or the current increases.
    This means that if you don’t have a dedicated circuit to charge your vehicle and you are stuck using standard outlets, you might be able to help yourself by connecting outlets together IF you do it correctly and select your outlets carefully.
    This is not recommended and is generally in violation of electrical wiring codes. I highly advise against this unless you have a lot of expertise in electrical wiring, ie, if you learned anything from or don’t 100% understand anything I’ve written above, DON’T try it.
    The best approach is simply to get an electrician to wire up a 240 Volt circuit to your garage to charge your car. This may require a new ‘entrance’ to your house from the street if you don’t have any extra capacity in your breaker box or you could trip your main breaker if charging your car at the same time as other things are using power.

  • Shines

    Of course I was not suggesting a 3rd rail running the length of our interstate highway system. I suggest something like weigh stations (interspersed) along the interstate system. You pull your EV off the main road onto a parallel lane and connect to a something LIKE a 3rd rail (or maybe an overhead wire system as ex-EV1 suggests) that CHARGES the EVs battery (for maybe a mile?) as it continues to roll towards its destination.
    Clearly though – the many suggestions and discussions on this thread show that many people are thinking about ways to overcome percieved shortcomings of EVs. This must be seen as positive for EVs!

  • J

    –ex-EV1 driver,

    Three types of charging? Are you listening to yourself when you say that? I don’t want my car dictating how I go about my life. Right now I can fill up on Sunday and go to the middle of the following week with no worries. EV’s are not economical, efficient or convenient. They are for people that have money to spend and or are wanting to make a statement. Until the time comes where charging is as quick as fueling up is now and will take me at least 400 miles on a single charge, EV’s are not ready for taking over the ICE’s or hybrids.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Think about it. Your car leaves you only one method of refueling today – essentially my option 3. That is to go out of your way once per week (I’d have to do it at least twice per week since I have a long commute) to your friendly neighborhood gas station and sit there for about 5 minutes while you refuel with expensive gasoline. You don’t have the option of shopping for cheaper sources such as your home (much of my electricity comes from the sun directly) or stores that might want to offer you free energy to lure you in.
    My car’s ‘tank’ is full every morning, ready for up to 200 miles of driving and I can always charge at work if I have to go places for business during the day. This handles all my needs 5 days of the week. If my car were bigger, then it would probably handle at least 3/4 of my weekend usage (that’s about 93% of my usage). Fast charging or opportunity charging would handle the remaining 7% of my needs. Or, I could just go to the local fast charger all the time like you do and pay the provider for the privilege. I, however, get to choose.
    I guess you’re right. I happened to have money to spend so I did so – to help jumpstart an EV industry for the benefit of all (including me).
    If sticking it to the oil companies and oil producing countries that hate me is making a statement then let the records show that I’m making it 🙂
    Are you trying to make a statement that you aren’t willing to pay a little more today, to provide a chance that your children or grandchildren will live the same mobility-enabled lifestyle that you conveniently enjoy today?

  • judas

    what about where dealers make thier money? servicing $30-$120 every 40,000-60,000 miles thats if nothing goes wrong. what maintence is required on a EV? check battery levels? and for dead cells after 100,000 miles or once a year after the summer heat and i bet thats mostly computerized

  • tapra1

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