The series finale of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship in London showcased the innovative e-mobility technologies of today. We take a closer look at the charging technology powering the championship, and how innovation is making its way from the race track into the commercial and industrial vehicles of the future.
Since its debut in 2014, Formula E, the all-electric motorsport series, has become the fastest-growing series in motorsport. Now officially known as the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, the series brings electrifying wheel-to-wheel action to some of the world’s greatest cities. The sport was created primarily to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and promote sustainable practices, alongside raising the benefits of driving electric and showcasing how clean mobility can counteract climate change.
Technology and automation leader ABB’s partnership with Formula E began in 2018, providing the company with a unique opportunity to bring more of its technologies for e-mobility, smart cities and sustainability to a global audience. The series acts as a testbed for these technologies, ultimately contributing to a cleaner environment for all. As of season nine, ABB has taken on its new role as official charging supplier within the series, providing the charging technology for Gen3 cars.
THE FORMULA E RACE CHARGER
Working with engineers from Formula E and motorsport governing body, the FIA, ABB has designed a compact, reliable and safe solution for charging the new Gen3 cars before race day and between sessions. Designed to be robust and ergonomic, the charger allows for easy global transportation and installation. According to ABB, the charger benefits from the newest technology in power electronics, while outputting the smallest possible footprint.
Each charger can deliver a maximum power of 160kW and is able to charge two vehicles with 80kW of power simultaneously, before the race. This allows race teams to benefit from a ‘double charging’ capacity from one unit, significantly reducing the footprint of the charger and decreasing transportation emissions, as there is no longer a need for one unit per car.
Aside from the race track, ABB has more than one million EV chargers installed across its AC and DC charging portfolio in over 85 countries worldwide. The company has applied its expertise in charging solutions to develop a bespoke solution for the racing environment. In turn, the learnings gained from the Formula E environment can be fed back into the company’s industrial and commercial e-mobility technologies.
During the two-race season nine closer in London in July, we sat down with ABB E-mobility’s UK Lead, Oliver Johnson, to discuss current challenges to EV charging, how technology transfer from the racetrack to the road is benefiting the commercial e-mobility sector, and his prediction for the future of transportation.
WHAT CHALLENGES FACE THE E-MOBILITY SECTOR IN TERMS OF TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT?
The two main challenges we face at the moment revolve around interoperability and standardisation. These are the foundations upon which ABB builds the development of its charging technologies. We continue to work with standardisation bodies as part of the transport industry to ensure we are delivering energy quickly, safely, and reliably. Additionally, industry collaborations are continually looking to push the boundaries and possibilities of physics in order to go faster, which poses technological challenges. There are also challenges around making charging technologies compatible for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) like industrial trucks, and then standardising such technologies in order to roll them out commercially.
Ultimately, the challenges facing charging come down to physics. Certainly, we know the physics around conducting electricity, superconductors, solid-state batteries and so on, and the potential these technologies have. But to apply this to develop something that is commercially available can be challenging. You don’t want innovation for innovation’s sake; you need to look at the desired application and decide on the most appropriate technologies and design techniques.
HOW IMPORTANT IS TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER BETWEEN THE RACETRACK AND THE ROAD?
From an engineering point of view, efficiency is about trying to do more with less. The Formula E cars have a 28kW/h battery and can run a race on full speed because they are generating so much more regen battery. During a race, they’re using the equivalent of three litres of fuel, that’s it. In a conventional combustion engine car, you would be looking at something like 20 litres of fuel for exactly the same performance. The continual development of these battery regeneration, aerodynamics, lightweighting and other technologies on the race development side can provide a lot of engineering takeaways for industrial and commercial vehicle settings.
From an industrial point of view, the middle to last-mile delivery side of things is interesting. You see global companies like DHL already electrifying their 100-mile delivery fleets in virtually every area of London using EVs, because it makes business sense. It’s cheaper and less maintenance for fleet operators. Saying this, it’s worth having a more holistic view about what is sensible when looking to apply these technologies elsewhere. For instance, commercial EVs on the road will never need to go as fast as the race cars on the track, so to transfer some elements of the technology to that scenario might not make sense. Additionally, if an EV car owner tends to charge their car overnight, they don’t need the superfast charging capabilities of the race charger.
WHAT DOES THE NEXT DECADE HOLD FOR THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION?
In the last eight years, there’s been a transition of some 50,000 EVs on the road to over a million. I’d say that the next 10 years will see EVs reach the 10 million mark, but I think there will also be other competing technologies out there. There are conversations around different combustible fuels, non-combustible fuels, but due to how potent a form of energy electricity is, and how safe and easy it is to use and transport, I think electric will be the winner.
The challenge will be with HGVs, an area that we at ABB are very much focused on. We work with standardisation bodies looking at megawatt charging and connectors to inform and develop future e-mobility technologies and designs suited to the electrification of HGVs. Over time, major distribution hubs will likely become electrified, and we will see more widespread adoption of vehicle-to-grid technology as the adoption of EVs continues to increase.