As automakers continue to shift toward electric vehicles (EVs), the days of the internal combustion engine will end—and sooner than you think. In Canada, sales of new gas-powered vehicles will end in 2035. South of the border, the United States will end sales of new gas-powered light vehicles as early as 2025.
For many car owners, their next purchase will be an electric vehicle. But as many current EV owners know, the environmental benefits of battery-powered cars come with trade-offs.
Dr Yverick Pascal Rangom, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo, identifies that trade-off as the driving distances that current battery technology can support.
"Electric motors are good," he said. "They're incredibly small and powerful. What matters is the battery, specifically how much energy they can store, how long and how long it takes to charge."
Together with other researchers at Waterloo, Rangom is currently working on innovations that target those limitations. In one initiative, he is leading a collaboration with fellow associate professor Dr. Michael Pope on a research project approved by auto parts manufacturer Magna.
“The final technical hurdle we faced with lithium-ion batteries—at least for electric vehicles—was fast charging,” says Rangom. "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 bring this technology to everyone. It's a big role for developers. study like me and others at the University."
While many EVs can be plugged into a standard outlet to charge, they often take hours to fully charge. EV owners who forget to plug in overnight may wake up to find their morning commute will be significantly delayed.
A dedicated fast EV charger at home is one option. Installing these specialized chargers has become a widely available service that home electricians provide. But while the installation costs are affordable, most existing homes don't have the capacity to power them.
Single-family homes built before the late 1980s typically only have 100-amp service. Dedicated EV chargers require additional capacity, and many homeowners have to upgrade to 200-amp service. This type of upgrade can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000.
Charging away from home is another challenge. Many cities and businesses have installed specialized chargers, and manufacturers are working to build networks of fast charging stations to provide the same coverage as traditional gas stations today.
Electric vehicle pioneer Tesla has one of the largest networks of what it calls a supercharger. Tesla reportedly has more than 40,000 superchargers worldwide, including 17,000 in the US and 147 in Canada.
Drivers of smoke-powered gasoline vehicles know that there is almost always a gas station nearby. But even with dedicated home chargers and an ever-growing network of public chargers, electric vehicle owners still struggle with "range anxiety," the fear that they'll get stuck. because there is not enough battery to reach the destination. As we near the end of the internal combustion engine era, electric vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers are working to improve charging times and battery capacity.
Waterloo researchers like Rangom are leading the way in many of these innovations. His research focuses on improving the performance of future electrodes, capacitors and solid-state batteries of lithium-ion (Li-ion) and sodium-ion (Na-ion) batteries.
Work is helping to enhance the fast-charging capabilities of Li-ion batteries to eliminate range worries and accelerate our transition to an electric vehicle future. Rangom's path to battery research started not with chemical engineering but with a degree in mechanical engineering.
"My first passion was vehicles and I wanted to try to make a difference in this area," he said. "It was pretty clear from the start that the future of transportation was going to be electric. That's when I turned to electrochemical storage device engineering."
The electric motors used in electric vehicles are smaller and more powerful than most of their gas-powered cousins. The smaller size of the EV engine allows for more storage, most notably the introduction of the "frunk". The trunk is the colloquial name for the front storage area created by the EV's powertrain and engine being placed underneath the vehicle, not in the front compartment. But no matter how great, EV owners still have to deal with limited battery capacity, battery life, and slow charging times.
Chemical batteries like those found in electric vehicles have two sides—anode and cathode. During charging, a chemical reaction occurs in the battery, electrons are released from the cathode and pass through the circuit towards the anode.
Rangom's research is mainly concerned with improving the anode side, often using graphite or silicon. He is exploring alternative electrode architectures to replace the non-conductive structural components of today's electrodes to achieve faster charging speeds.
"I'm trying not to stray from the lithium-ion battery because we already have a lot of infrastructure in place," he said.