Battery Show 2022: Wireless EV Charging, Scaling Gigafactories

The newest ideas and innovations in energy-storage technology converged at the North American iteration of the 2022 Battery Show.

Lithium-ion batteries on the assembly line at Mercedes-Benz’s new manufacturing facility in Bibb County, Alabama, near the company’s vehicle assembly plant in Tuscaloosa. Automakers and the world’s largest battery makers are scrambling to scale battery production at gigafactories, a subject of discussion at the 2022 Battery Show near Detroit. (Mercedes-Benz)

At September’s North American stop of The Battery Show 2022 in Novi, Michigan, thousands of attendees crammed into the Suburban Collection Showplace exhibition center to see the latest innovations from hundreds of EV suppliers ranging from battery tech, hardware, software, and demo vehicles. The three-day conference took place against a backdrop of accelerating battery technology research and development from both the automotive industry and the federal government, which has promised substantial investment and incentives to to support and expand U.S. battery development and manufacturing.

At the Battery Show 2022, Wave CTO Michael Masquelier said wireless charging can help to reduce EV commercial vehicles’ weight and cost by enabling right-sizing of batteries. (Wave)

SAE Media attended several of the presentations and keynotes at the show, where a multitude of technology innovations and concepts for the rapidly growing EV sector were presented for both light and commercial vehicles. A brief summary and highlights from some of the sessions:

Rise of the gigafactory

One panel discussion addressed the rise of the battery “gigafactory;” covering topics such as the key challenges to building these facilities in North America, finance, infrastructure and utilities concerns, factory tooling — and how these companies can capitalize on government policy and investment.

The moderator was Bob Galyen, chairman emeritus & CTO at NAATBatt International and the panel was comprised of Philippe Couillard, vice president at Britishvolt Canada, Jay Bellows, president at Kore Power, and Asim Hussain, CMO at QuantumScape.

Bellows discussed the logistical challenges of setting up the large-scale factories needed to produce batteries for EVs – in light of the comparative novelty of the technology. “You want to get it right from the start,” said Bellows. “You also want to test out your manufacturing processes from scratch and make sure you lock them in before building out something on that scale.”

Bellows continued “We have an opportunity to increase the energy density of batteries, but we have to do that with a process that truly scales. And in order to do that, you have to build out a platform and test it and work with our OEM partners to validate it.”

The panel also discussed the everchanging minefield that is government investment in developing technologies and the role that government investment is playing in EV development. “Financial support is the first and foremost thing governments can offer,” said Couillard. “The government needs to step in early in this industry.” He also expanded on the financial role that government finds have played in EV development and how access to those funds has changed. “Traditionally, we have been using grants,” he said. “Now grants are going out of favor and the tools used by many governments are advantageous or forgivable loans. So government needs to be here early, but not too long because you don’t want to close access to the rest of the financial markets.”

Bellows also addressed the role the U.S. government has assumed in the domestication of the EV supply chain. “I think the U.S. government has identified the need and the want to have batteries manufactured here,” he said. “We work closely with the DOE and I think that’s a really great place to start for grants and loans.”

Hussain discussed the U.S. government’s current willingness and ability to support the development of new technologies and manufacturing capability to grow the EV sector. “The government is recognizing the demand, through acts like the Inflation Reduction Act, to make it more attractive to develop the manufacturing capabilities here in the U.S.,” he said. “We don’t just want to design batteries in the U.S., we (also) want to make them in the U.S. at scale.”

Hussain also cautioned that building a manufacturing base and growing EV sales globally is more than access to raw materials and production capability. “This is also a fight for talent,” he said. “Government support on the education side to make sure that pipeline of talent exists is essential. To get the EV penetration in the market that we’re projecting, its going to take not only gigafactories producing it but also a lot of engineering talent.”

Commercial-grade wireless charging

Another Battery Show presentation covered the use of high-power wireless charging to extend the driving range of medium- and heavy-duty EVs. The speaker for this presentation was Michael Masquelier, CTO of Wave and co-chair of SAE’s committee on wireless charging. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Wave is one of the leading suppliers in North America for wireless charging of commercial EVs, with several deployments currently in service, including in the port of Los Angeles.

Masquelier outlined the challenges that electrification presents for the commercial sector in terms of range anxiety and the need for power density. “Consumption for medium and heavy is roughly 10x greater than light duty,” he explained. “If you translate that to the size of the battery needed to move the goods and people these vehicles do, it translates to an over 30% increase in the cost of the vehicle.”

Masquelier went on to explain how wireless charging can mitigate the current shortfalls of energy density for commercial EVs and how its deployment can extend the range of the vehicles. “The general thought for a lot of commercial customers is ‘we’re going to run it all day, then bring it back to the depot and plug it in’” he said. “However, this has a lot of challenges. It’s a very manual process and there’s a lot of issues with failed contactor and plastic housings. Pantograph charging is also an option and is semi-automated but very high-maintenance in terms of cleaning contactors. Wireless is fully automated with no moving parts and minimal maintenance and can enable a charge in seconds.

“We typically put chargers at an existing transit hub,” he continued. “The idea was by providing intermittent charging that we prolong battery life and limit full-discharge cycles as well as a reduction in the number of required batteries and cost.” Masquelier also noted that wireless charging fully automates the charging process so that the driver does not have to exit the vehicle at stops. “The pad automatically detects when vehicle is aligned and stationary and begins charging within seconds,” he explained.

According to Masquelier, the Antelope Valley Transit Authority near Los Angeles, California, will be the first transit system to announce full conversion to zero-emission buses via wireless charging. Wave’s charging pads also reportedly generate efficiency similar to or greater than plug-in charging in terms of total power usage and transfer 90% of the provided power from the grid to the battery.

“A 10-minute charge adds roughly 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) of additional range,” said Masquelier. He went on to explain that when full wireless-charge strategy is employed at serval stops along a vehicle’s given route, the potential cost savings in terms of required vehicle battery size, as well as reduction in vehicle weight, are substantial. “What fleet owners ultimately want is to have the same range they had with their diesel counterparts,” he said. “With a fully realized wireless charging system and a right-sized battery pack, we can provide that level of range, as well as a significant long-term cost savings.”