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Pacific Northwest Gets More Fast-Charge Juice for Its Electric Highway

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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electric,hybrid,infrastructure,car,WashingtonThe future of electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S. balances tenuously these days on a chicken-and-egg quandary. Roadside stations that charge EVs in less than 30 minutes are needed to encourage drivers to buy EVs, yet there must also be enough EVs already on the road to justify the investment in a fast-charging infrastructure. The state of Washington took a major step toward breaking this impasse July 13, announcing that it has chosen a company to manufacture, supply, install and operate a network of nine fast-charging stations by the end of the year along the state’s portion of the Pacific Northwest’s Electric Highway.

The AeroVironment 480-volt stations will be located every 64 to 97 kilometers along stretches of Interstate 5 between the Canadian border and Everett, Wash., and between Olympia and the Oregon border, as well as along a portion of U.S. Route 2. The fast-charging—aka Level 3—stations will be operational by November 30, and are expected to power an electric vehicle from zero to fully charged in less than a half hour. Each station will also have slower, 240-volt Level 2 charging units expected to cost less but take up to six hours for a full charge. The stations will be located at private retail locations such as shopping malls, fueling stations and travel centers with easy access to the highway.green,highway,west,electric,hybrid

The federal government is also pitching in via the Department of Energy’s EV Project, with plans to bring 900 Nissan Leaf EVs and more than 2,000 EV charging stations to the Seattle area. Combined, the Electric Highway and EV projects are expected to connect Washington drivers along the entire 444 kilometers of I-5 between Canada and Oregon. (AeroVironment is also installing fast-charge stations along I-5 in Oregon through a similar project managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation.)

Washington’s EV-charging infrastructure is an important part of the larger West Coast Green Highway, whose plans also call for hydrogen refueling stations as well as solar-powered lighting. When complete, the green highway will extend a network of EV recharging stations along all 2,173 kilometers of I-5 from Canada to Mexico to serve the more than 2 million EVs expected to be sold in Washington, Oregon and California in the next decade.

Of course, AeroVironment isn’t the only EV charging provider building out infrastructure across the nation. Coulomb Technologies—working with Ford, Chevrolet and smart USA—is sponsoring the ChargePoint America program to provide EVs and EV charging infrastructure to homes and businesses in California, the Pacific Northwest, Texas, the Northeast and Florida. Unlike the Electric Highway, however, the ChargePoint infrastructure will consist of 5,000 networked Level 2 stations. The EV Project, which kicked off in August 2009, plans to deploy about 14,000 Level 2 and up to 400 Level 3 charging stations from ECOtality across the U.S.

Fast-charging technology is still in a formative stage of development. Most fast-charge technology, including AeroVironment’s, adheres to the CHAdeMO standard endorsed primarily by Nissan and Mitsubishi. The Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) is developing its own DC fast-charging standard, although this won’t be ready for another nine months, giving CHAdeMO a healthy head start.

Image courtesy of Gene Chutka, via iStockphoto.com
Image of I5 West Coast Green Highway map courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation





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  1. 1. RDH 4:10 pm 07/13/2011

    Even thirty minutes is way too long. What we need is a quick swap station where I can pull in and yank my depleted batteries out and replace them with charged batteries and be on my way in a minute or two. Either that or a two minute charge.

    "Yes officer, I ran out of charge. Do you have a can of charge to get me to the next station or can you at least give me a ride to a station where I can pick up a can and bring it back?"

    Link to this
  2. 2. Desert Navy 4:36 pm 07/13/2011

    I don’t understand why there just isn’t a cell "standard" for rechargeable vehicles.

    You pull into a recharge station, pull out your fuel-cell, hook it up for a quick diagnostic check, receive credit for any remaining charge you have, and pop a fully charged fuel-cell into your vehicle and off you go.

    Yes, these things are damn heavy, but a simple overhead lift and bringing back service-station attendants until a proper infrastructure is in place would mean any gas station could handle electric cars and it would provide much-needed jobs, at least for a few years.

    Link to this
  3. 3. timjwilson 5:55 pm 07/13/2011

    Interesting that the two comments above bring up the idea of battery swapping instead of recharging. The swapping approach is being used by at least one company, "Better Place", which is rolling out infrastructure in Israel, Denmark, and Australia (among other places). In their approach, they own the battery (not you). Take a look at their website if you’re interested.

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  4. 4. sault 6:32 pm 07/13/2011

    The battery swap stations are MUCH more expensive than even these fast charge stations. If you take a fully electric car on a road trip that exceeds its 1-charge range, then you should expect to have a few delays. For right now, they’re great urban runabouts that can cover over 90% of people’s transportation needs. If you will go on road trips often, get a Prius or rent a minivan if you’re taking the kids.

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  5. 5. dulcimoo 6:56 pm 07/13/2011

    If I could charge up at work I’d get on.
    Solar charge at home.

    But I can’t quite make a round trip in a Leaf as it is right now. ]:8(

    Link to this
  6. 6. Dr.Kamlander 1:27 am 07/14/2011

    Dear Sir !You bring the content of the article to the point : Charging the batteries takes a little time. They get hot in the process and I still doubt that the necessary eletricity will be available ( no question that it can be done ) I do not know your office hours (9 to 5 ?) when you reach home the sun will be low over the horizon. Take a little handheld computer a sheet of paper and start calculating ; The batterie has a known capacity and works with,say 200 Volts.
    you will soon find the Ampere necessary to fill the batterie in two minutes !! There will be a lot of work to be done . It will change the american way of life a little ( like ours here in austria )but it is worth it and I wish all good luck. Dr.Kamlander@aon.at

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  7. 7. Wolfhart 6:56 pm 10/28/2011

    The last word whether we drive in the future along electrified rods has the oil – if our planet runs out of it…
    Electric energy can always economical produced (heat from the earth etc).
    To get rid of big batteries the rods itself must be electrified.
    One day you may drive without engine and without big batteries across the USA.
    You may reed a newspaper or sleep the trip, because your electronic hold your car on the right track…
    (If you leave the track you have to use batteries or an engine.)
    There are different methods to transmit electrical energy from the ground to the cars. Some of them are already in use…I have by myself several ideas for an adequate system…

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