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Researchers, Companies Look at Flash-Chargers for Electric Buses, Solar Cars that Need No Charging

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A Swiss-Swedish automation company, a Japanese automaker, and an e-bus manufacturer in China are all reporting new developments in the race develop rapid recharging technologies for vehicles.

In China, ABB and King Long Motor Group are working on a new flash-charging system that could charge an e-bus in seconds and provide crucial support for urban microgrids, Microgrid Knowledge reports [1]. And Toyota is looking at a longer-term plan to combine top-of-the-line solar panels with super-efficient batteries in a car that, in theory, might never need to be recharged, Bloomberg says [2].

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In the pilot project now under way in China, “King Long is designing and assembling the e-bus, while ABB is providing its TOSA flash-charging system,” which “consists of a wayside feeding station, an energy transfer system, and an onboard battery charger,” Microgrid Knowledge explains. ABB says the system can charge a bus in seconds, while passengers board and disembark, an approach that “avoids having to take e-buses out of service every few hours for recharging or having a replacement on hand, which in turn reduces the size of an e-bus fleet and offers potential cost savings. In addition, the fast-charging system doesn’t need to connect to any power lines, which also saves money and makes for easier deployment and better operating efficiency.”

André Burdet, vice president for grid integration product management and marketing at ABB Power Grids, said the plan is to launch a demonstration project by mid-2020. The Microgrid Knowledge coverage includes detailed system specs.

Toyota, meanwhile, is working with Sharp Corporation and Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). They’re in the early stages of testing a reconfigured Prius hybrid that might eventually draw enough electricity from rooftop solar cells to power the vehicle.

“Even if fully electric cars overtake petroleum-powered vehicles in sales, they still need to be plugged in, which means building a network of charging stations across the globe,” Bloomberg writes. “The sun, on the other hand, shines everywhere for free, and when that energy is paired with enough battery capacity to propel automobiles at night, solar-powered cars could leapfrog all the new energy technologies being developed, from plug-in hybrids to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, in one fell swoop.”

But getting there will be easier said than done. “This is not a technology we are going to see widely used in the next decades,” said analyst Takeshi Miyao from automotive consultancy Carnorama. “It’s going to take a long time.” So far, using a Sharp solar cell that converts sunlight to power at an efficiency rate above 34%, compared to 20% for commercial panels, the prototype can cover up to 50 kilometres per day, four days per week without being plugged in for recharging.