Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) is all about user experience. The firm has managed to make the electric car a cultural phenomenon by making it simply better than an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle for many users. There’s still some hiccups in the process, however. A move on the stock market earlier this week shows one possible solution.
On Wednesday shares in Superconductor Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ:SCON) spiked. Benzinga reported that the stock market move came as a result of report that was passed around Wall Street claiming that some new tech from the company could make the Tesla Motors Model S see faster charging times. The report’s effect quickly faded, but the tech is still there and deserves a closer look.
Tesla Motors needs to shorten charging times
There are a few things that those thinking about buying an EV like the Tesla Motors Model S are worried about. The first is range anxiety, a fear that the battery will run out and leave the driver stranded. Tesla has worked on both software and hardware fixes to those worries. Earlier this year the firm boosted the range of its EVs, and it added software that gives a driver better info on when and where to charge.
Those features are working to make the time a user spends in an EV less stressful, and the fact that most users tend to charge their Model S at home while they’re sleeping leaves most with a full tank to go about their day. When one is going long distance, or doesn’t have a home that’s able to charge their Model S, they need to use a SuperCharger, and that takes time.
In an 85kWh Model S at one of the stations it takes about 75 minutes to charge up to 100 percent. An 80 percent charge that’s good enough for most users only takes 40 minutes. With fuelling up an ICE car taking less than ten minutes that’s a problem for Tesla, and one of the last impediments to putting EV user experience on the same level as that of ICEs.
It’s not that many users are touched by that charging time on a regular basis, it’s that the headline number can scare off a lot of potential buyers. Tesla Motors would like to charge cars faster, but there are tech-based hurdles in the firm’s way.
A video emerged on Monday of a change in the way Tesla Motors charges the Model S. The firm has added liquid cooling to a new SuperCharger in Mountain View, California, and it offers many benefits. Right from the start it’s going to run cooler, and it’s going to be smaller and lighter, but in the future Tesla may be able to offer much more from its new stations.
Michael Graham Richard over at Treehugger, said when revealing the new station that cooler chargers could be used to lower charging time.
He said, on whether Tesla would roll out the new chargers to all of its stations, “If I had to guess, I’d probably say that they’ll be limited to new ones until Tesla announces the availability of faster charging, and then old ones will get progressively replaced so that everyone can benefit from the faster charging.”
Cooling is one area in which Tesla is at a disadvantage, but cable capacity is another, related problem. That’s where Superconductor Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ:SCON) comes in.
Superconducting at Tesla
A super conductor is a material that offers zero electrical resistance. That means that every bit of energy that passes through a cable passes to the source, and none of the energy is changed to heat. There are two kinds of material that can reach this state, those at a very low temperature or those at a very high temperature.
Right now the commercial application of High Temperature Superconductors is limited. Superconductor Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ:SCON) wants to change that. The firm said last week that its Conductus wire, which is a superconductor at high temperatures, “attained a new record for current handling performance of greater than 900 Amps at 77 kelvin in self field with 12 millimeter wide wire.”
The Tesla Motors SuperChargers change their charging rate based on the amount of battery left among other factors, and it’s not clear if upping the kWh ready to be put into a Model S would be able to increase the charge rate. The Model S can currently charge at a max of 120kWh.
With no voltage data from the Conductus Wire, a direct contrast cannot be made, but if the wire was able to sustain a charge at 900 amps, it would only need to do so at 133 Volts in order to compete with the Tesla rate. A standard 240V rate would deliver more than 21 kWh, while 350V, which the Tesla chargers have been know to reach, would deliver 31.5kWh.
Building a better battery
It’s likely that Tesla Motors won’t be able to simply put a better cable and cooling system in its stations and call it a day. There are other key parts to any charging equation. Those include the software, the power source and the all-important battery. The first two are likely easy for Tesla Motors to sort out, the third has been a problem for more than a hundred years.
On June 17 Tesla announced that it would partner with Jeff Dahn, an expert on the Li-Ion power packs that the firm uses in its cars. That deal will, like most of Tesla’s work on power packs, focus on cost rather than charge time, but the firm is pouring time and money into the area. If it wants to make a battery that can charge much more quickly, it can make that part of its research.
Counting the cost of the SuperCharger
Tesla Motors can’t just build a SuperCharger because it makes a user’s time better-spent, the firm needs to turn a profit at some point. Though the network of chargers is one of its greatest assets, it comes with huge costs. Tesla offers charging for free at the stations, and as more and more cars end up on the road, that’s starting to hurt the firm.
Even if firm’s research does manage to use next-gen wire, and battery systems, to boost the charge time at stations, it may simply cost too much to put in place. It’s clear, from the advent of the liquid-cooled station, that Tesla Motors is working on improving its chargers, however. That means there is a chance that tech like this will cut charge times in the future.
That future is still likely a long way away, and those who don’t like having to wait around while their car loads up on power are going to have to make due for the time being. Given the 11,507 cars that Tesla Motors sold in the three months through June it seems that demand hasn’t been hurt all that badly by charge times.