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Cooling forward: how HVAC will charge EV mobility

2020, Rome. A man arrives quietly at a “gas” station in his brand-new car. He jumps down from the car and lights a cigarette. He looks around, takes the charger and fills up the car. After 15 minutes, his car is fully recharged, and he heads off towards Milan without needing to stop on the 600 km trip.

Yes, believe it or not, this is an electric vehicle (EV).

Ok, the dates and numbers above may vary a bit, but the scenario is quite realistic. 

Electric vehicles have the potential to become one of the most disruptive technologies capable of changing our behaviour, but also the most difficult challenge that the automotive supply chain and power utilities, through their electricity grids, have faced in the last one hundred years. The growth in the number of EVs is impressive, with interesting future scenarios: between 9 million and 20 million by 2020 and between 40 million and 70 million by 2025.

Source: IEA analysis based on EVI (Electric Vehicles Initiative: multi-government policy forum established in 2009 under the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM).

As an example, by 2025,  BMW expects their electric models to account for between 15 and 25 per cent of global sales.

The pros and cons of EVs versus ICEs (internal combustion engines) are well known:

R&D development is moving fast to reduce the barrier to adoption and to help ensure a positive experience for EV customers. To squeeze battery charging time and extend battery life, a lot of development effort is being put into battery density and thermal management, with activities both on the moving (cars) and stationary sides (charging infrastructure). 

While battery density is a matter for the car, thermal management of the battery is shared between the car and the charging infrastructure.

In fact, the latest generation EVs are connected to the mains power grid via an external charger located in the charging installation and able to convert mains AC current to DC current used by the car’s system, instead of adopting an in-car converter. Control and protection functions and the vehicle charging cable are installed permanently in the charging installation. New fast charging (FC) stations coming onto market can charge a vehicle at 350 kW and 500 A with a recharging speed of 4 min/100 km (the man at the beginning our story knew that….), with the prospect of going even higher to “extreme fast charging” (XFC) at 450 kW or more. 

In such fast or superfast charging processes, a large amount of heat is generated at the battery and cable level, and a proper control strategy for charging and cooling is highly recommended to ensure both safety and a high charging rate. Heat can become the worst enemy for batteries, and must be handled precisely; below is an example of how temperature can affect NiCd battery charge: 

NiCd charge acceptance as a function of temperature. High temperature reduces charge acceptance and departs from the dotted “100% efficiency line”. At 55°C, commercial NiMH has a charge efficiency of 35–40%; newer industrial NiMH reaches 75–80%.
Source: Cadex. 

In comes HVAC, with cooling systems able to guarantee stability of the process and keep the required temperature conditions.

The coolant used in chillers is usually water or water with glycol, depending on the cooling unit and the climate, while station layout may vary considerably.  

The cooling unit and controller might be installed centrally, the same as happens with centralised chillers inside a factory. Each of the charging stations are supplied with coolant and fitted with a separate heat exchanger.

Another solution is to install the charger in standalone charging stations. In this case, the chiller and controller are integrated. 

Modulating cooling technology supported by DC inverter compressors and electronic expansion valves can adapt to with the different conditions a charging station may face: different charge levels of incoming cars, even with different battery capacities; busy day/light night shifts with consequent intermittent duty and need for fast cooling capacity request; etc.

Also IoT (Internet of Things) solutions with Artificial Intelligence both for the chiller itself and the entire charging station make a lot of sense. As EV adoption grows, utilities must either add this option to meet energy demands or improve smart-charging. For instance, IoT and AI could minimise EV emissions and remotely optimise charging load and chiller behaviour, leading to a reduction in peak demand and an increase in the likelihood that EVs charge on cheaper and cleaner renewable energy.

Direct government incentives, utility investment programs and carmakers’ projects are putting money into charging infrastructure to support EV adoption and to help ensure a positive experience for their customers. 

Expenditure in utilities and infrastructure is very close to that in cars, with traditional gas station companies following suit. Shell has confirmed plans to add EV charging points to some of its gas stations in the UK and the Netherlands within the next few months, while Eni already has charging facilities at some of its outlets and Total has declared that it is considering this option. Tesla, the well-known car maker that first started massive EV car production, has been talking to several chains about installing its Superchargers at gas stations.

Global infrastructure expenditure needed by 2040 to support 526 milion electric vehicles

Source: Bloomberg elaboration on Morgan Stanley Research

It will be a matter of thermodynamic optimisation , connectivity and interoperability: that’s what CAREL calls “connected efficiency” and, not by chance, has decided to adopt as its new company mission.

EV mobility is calling and HVAC is answering, but only players with long-term vision and open to new business models will play a significant role in the game.


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