New quantum technology to make charging electric cars as fast as pumping gas

Fast battery charging technology concept

Quantum Charging will reduce EV charging time from 10 hours to 3 minutes.

Whether photovoltaics or nuclear fusion, sooner or later human civilization will have to switch to renewable energies. This is considered unavoidable in view of mankind’s ever-growing energy requirements and the finite nature of fossil fuels. Therefore, much research has been done to develop alternative sources of energy, most of which use electricity as the main fuel. The extensive research and development in renewable energy has been accompanied by gradual societal changes as the world introduced new products and devices that run on renewable energy. The most noticeable change recently is the rapid adoption of electric vehicles. While 10 years ago they were hardly seen on the streets, today millions of electric cars are sold every year. The electric car market is one of the fastest growing sectors and has helped make Elon Musk the richest man in the world.

Unlike conventional cars, which derive energy from burning hydrocarbon fuels, electric vehicles rely on batteries to store their energy. Batteries have long had a far lower energy density than hydrocarbons, resulting in very short ranges for early electric vehicles. However, gradual improvement in battery technologies eventually allowed electric car ranges to be at acceptable levels compared to gasoline-powered cars. It is no understatement that improving battery storage technology was one of the key engineering bottlenecks that needed to be solved to kickstart the current electric vehicle revolution.

Charging vehicles with quantum battery technologies

A pictorial representation of today’s electric vehicle versus the future vehicle based on quantum battery technologies. Using Quantum Charging would result in a 200x speedup in a typical EV, meaning charging time would be reduced from 10 hours to around 3 minutes (at home) or 30 minutes to 9 seconds at a charging station. Credit: Institute for Basic Research

However, despite the tremendous improvements in battery technology, consumers of electric vehicles today face another difficulty – the slow charging speed of the battery. Currently, cars at home take about 10 hours to fully charge. Even the fastest superchargers at the charging stations need up to 20-40 minutes to fully recharge the vehicles. This causes additional costs and inconveniences for customers.

To tackle this problem, scientists turned to the mysterious field of quantum physics for answers. Their search has led to the discovery that quantum technologies could promise new mechanisms to charge batteries faster. Such a “quantum battery” concept was first proposed in a seminal paper by Alicki and Fannes in 2012. It has been theorized that quantum resources such as entanglement can be used to significantly speed up the battery charging process by charging all cells within the battery collectively at the same time.

This is particularly exciting as modern large capacity batteries can contain numerous cells. With classic batteries, in which the cells are charged in parallel independently of one another, such collective charging is not possible. The advantage of this collective over parallel charging can be measured by the ratio called the “quantum charging advantage”. Later, around 2017, it was discovered that there could be two possible sources behind this quantum advantage – namely “global operation” (where all cells talk to everyone else at the same time, i.e. “everyone is sitting at the same table”) and “all- to-all coupling” (any cell can talk to any other, but a single cell, i.e. “many discussions, but each discussion has only two participants”). However, it is unclear whether these two sources are necessary and whether there are limits to the loading speed that can be achieved.

Recently, scientists from the Center for Theoretical Physics of Complex Systems within the Institute for Basic Research (IBS) have further investigated these questions. The paper, selected as an “Editor’s Proposal” in the journal Physical Review Letters, showed that all-to-all coupling in quantum batteries is irrelevant and that the existence of global operations is the only ingredient of the quantum advantage. The group went further to pinpoint the precise source of this benefit while ruling out all other possibilities, and even provided an explicit way to design such batteries.

In addition, the group was able to quantify exactly how much loading speed can be achieved in this scheme. While the maximum charging speed of classical batteries increases linearly with the number of cells, the study showed that quantum batteries with global operation can achieve a quadratic scaling of the charging speed. To illustrate this, let’s consider a typical electric vehicle with a battery that contains about 200 cells. Using this quantum charge would result in a 200x speedup over traditional batteries, meaning charging time at home would be reduced from 10 hours to around 3 minutes. At fast charging stations, the charging time would be reduced from 30 minutes to just a few seconds.

Researchers say the implications can be far-reaching, and the impact of quantum charging can extend far beyond electric cars and consumer electronics. For example, it could find key applications in future fusion power plants, where large amounts of energy need to be charged and discharged in an instant. Of course, quantum technologies are still in their infancy and there is still a long way to go before these methods can be implemented in practice. However, research results such as this point in a promising direction and may spur funders and companies to invest further in these technologies. It is believed that quantum batteries, if deployed, would completely revolutionize the way we use energy and bring us one step closer to our sustainable future.

Reference: “Quantum Charging Advantage Cannot be Extensive Without Global Operations” March 21, 2022, Physical Verification Letters. New quantum technology to make charging electric cars as fast as pumping gas

Tom Vazquez

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