Using current battery technology, a mobility scooter owner can expect to leave their vehicle plugged in overnight to achieve a full charge. This may give the user weeks’ worth of use, but if they find the battery suddenly flat and need to make an urgent trip out, there is little scope for a quick charge, other than leaving it plugged in for half an hour and hoping it does not run out on the way back from the shop.
StoreDot, an Israeli company formed by students of Tel Aviv University, believes it may have the answer to this problem. Founded in 2012, StoreDot specialises in ultra-fast charging batteries. Its technology utilises electro-chemical properties and nano-materials, optimised for the ultra-fast charging of electric vehicles, mobile phone power banks, drones and other devices that would benefit from shorter charging times.
The first question people tend to ask when they hear the term ‘fast charge’ is, “How fast?”
“Our aim is to be able to charge any electric vehicle within five minutes,” explains StoreDot CEO, Doron Myersdorf. More than just mobility scooters, this will include fully fledged electric cars like Teslas. While the idea might sound pie-in-the-sky, StoreDot is well on the way to achieving this goal, with plans to demonstrate the full charge of a four-wheeled vehicle by the end of next year. Another aim is to fully charge a smartphone battery within 30 seconds, and the company has already successfully demonstrated the full charge of both drone and two-wheeled vehicle batteries in five minutes.
So the technology already exists to charge an electric mobility scooter in as little as five minutes. If this is true, when can users expect to see these batteries readily available? Myersdorf says: “We are in the process of producing 1,000 samples to ship to customers. These are produced in China with our partner EVE Energy, and we hope to get feedback from the customers during Q4. This will take one to two quarters. So,” he concludes, “I think best case will be the middle of 2021, that we will see this on the market.”
However, in that short time, there are a number of hurdles for StoreDot to overcome. Unsurprisingly, the company’s batteries cannot be charged from a normal 230-volt wall socket in the home. Because of the high amount of power needed in a short amount of time, the batteries require something more powerful. When used with drones, for example, StoreDot requires that users buy charging stations, specially made by third-party manufacturers, in order to be able to use its batteries. When it comes to electric vehicles, however, it turns out there is already an infrastructure in place that will allow the charging of the batteries – namely the ever-growing network of electric vehicle charging stations around the world.
“What is different about StoreDot is not the charging, it›s the battery,” says Myersdorf. “The battery itself is new. It›s a battery that is safe, and it is able to take all of this power in a very short amount of time – in the case of drones or two-wheeled vehicles, five minutes.” With the increasing popularity of electric cars, it seems very possible that charging stations could be put in accessible locations – or eventually perhaps even residential locations – for mobility scooter users.
Another problem comes with the cooling of the batteries. Charging them can generate a significant amount of heat, which can prove dangerous, Myersdorf explains: “When you charge very fast there is a lot of power that is produced as a by-product. Power generates heat. The battery should not go above 45 or 50 degrees celsius during charging, so this is why we need cooling.”
The first option is to charge the batteries while they are in place in the vehicle, which requires collaboration with the vehicle manufacturer in order to design a cooling system that will nullify the danger of overheating; the second is to remove the batteries from the vehicle, placing them in the charging station alone. This way, the inbuilt cooling system in the charging station will deal with the heat – something electric vehicle charging stations already do.
“Even today,” Myersdorf describes, “let›s say you want to charge a Tesla in a charging station that is fast, you have liquid cooling for the cables and for the connector itself, and inside the car too for its operation. So you actually already have active cooling in the charging stations. We would use similar technologies. What is different about StoreDot is not the charging, it›s the battery. The battery itself is new. It›s a battery that is safe, and it is able to take all of this power in a very short amount of time – in the case of drones or two-wheeled vehicles, five minutes.”
As Myersdorf explained at a recent demonstration of its technology in use with a drone, the company does need to make some hardware and software changes to the vehicle in order for the battery to be compatible with it. He describes it as “almost plug-and-play”.
When it comes to using the batteries with mobility scooters specifically, Myersdorf says: “It›s going to be an interesting market for us. Every application where it becomes critical to charge fast, there is a value to replacing the batteries with our batteries, so they would charge in minutes.
“But then there is, of course, some trade off that you would get. You would give up some of your energy as we don›t give out exactly the same amount of energy. So you would give up maybe 20% – that›s about how much it compromises the energy density. Plus there is the issue with the cooling during charging that we need to take care of. But this is a price that many users are willing to pay to take advantage of losing the many hours of charging.”
The most pressing issues, such as the cooling method, StoreDot is dedicated to working out before what it is labelling ‘gen one’ launches, hopefully in mid-2021. And yet already, the team is working on ‘gen two’, which Myersdorf says will radically reduce the final cost of the product. At the moment he estimates that the first generation will cost “two to three times” the cost of a traditional rechargeable lithium option – not an exorbitant uptick in price given the benefits. However, the company knows that it can really take over the market once its batteries are competitively priced.
“We cannot introduce it to the full vehicle yet because of the price. Most of our research and development effort now is on gen two, which will reduce the cost dramatically, making it very close to a traditional lithium battery. This will take another two years or so, so we are looking at 2023 to have a full solution for an electric vehicle like a Tesla,” the CEO said.
Reflecting on the company and the work it is doing, he added: “The product is very unique, as is our company in the startup world. We have 35 PhDs here that are working on new materials. So we›ve basically taken a very difficult challenge on the material side, but in order to really disrupt the battery market that is already so well established, you need to do major work with the materials.”
Asked about how it feels to revolutionise a sector like the mobility scooter market, Myersdorf added finally: “Everywhere that we can solve people›s problems, this is where we want to be. Especially when it comes to the disabled. If we can tailor a solution that will make life much more convenient for them, then that is what we will do.