According to the Autostat think tank, Russian interest in electric vehicles has been steadily rising over the past five years, with Russians purchasing three times more electric cars in 2021 than they did in 2020. By 2022, the number of these cars in the country exceeded 19,000, according to official data. Meanwhile, the consulting firm Trust Technologies (previously PwC Russia - Ed.) estimates that this number will hit 26,000 by 2024 and go over 600,000 in the year 2030.
As electric vehicles become more widespread, so do the charging stations. According to government statistics, Russia went from having just six such stations in 2015 to 151 in 2020. By the summer of 2021, the Russian Ministry of Energy reported that there are 1600 car charging stations in the country. Unofficial data from the 2chargers.net app claims that the number is as high as 4367, with 3679 of them using alternating current (thus taking more time), and the other 688 built around direct current (resulting in shorter charging times). With 630 and 360 stations respectively, Moscow and the Moscow Oblast take the lead among Russian regions in terms of the number of these stations, while the Krasnodar Krai (220 stations), the Irkutsk Oblast (135 stations), and the Tyumen Oblast (117) also have a sizeable amount. But even the highest estimates leave some regions with fewer than a hundred charging points. It seems that there are still not enough charging stations in Russia.
“All of the existing technical solutions for charging electric cars require physical contact. The car has to approach the station and plug in its cable in order to get energy, while electric buses have to use pantographs, almost like a trolleybus. This system inconveniences the drivers, but it also presents a real challenge when it comes to unmanned vehicles. That is why we believe that the future of charging stations lies in wireless power transfer, which requires no physical effort on the user’s part. An electric car could simply park in a certain spot to refill its battery, while buses could recharge during stops,” says Georgy Baranov, the lead engineer of the project and an engineer at ITMO’s School of Physics and Engineering.
To develop a quick and efficient wireless charging station for urban environments, scientists from the Faculty of Physics partnered up with the tech company Yablochkov.
“At the School of Physics and Engineering we spent five years researching wireless power transfer. We first began looking into it while studying how to use metamaterials and metasurfaces to improve chargers of medium-power mobile devices. Back then, we were just figuring out the basics, but now is the time to find real-life applications for our research. Hence, we turned to developing more practical solutions for electric vehicle charging via high-power wireless energy transfer,” points out Polina Kapitanova, the head of the project and a senior research associate at ITMO’s School of Physics and Engineering.
Yablochkov is a company that has been developing and producing charging stations for electric cars and buses since 2017. It became an official partner of ITMO University in August 2022, with the goal of jointly creating a prototype wireless charger that has a power output of up to 50 kW.
“It is apparent from our clients’ stories that cables are among the components that fail most frequently. They twist and bend, while their insulation is subjected to the sun’s radiation, mud, and other harmful impacts. So we decided to team up with our colleagues from ITMO to create a project that is at the cutting edge of wireless technology. Our visions for the future of such charging systems matched. In a perfect scenario, charging an electric car will become a completely seamless process,” remarked Samvel Avetisyan, Yablochkov’s CPO and co-founder.
How the new chargers work
Inside the wireless chargers are several components: two magnetically coupled coils that were designed at ITMO, a power converter, and a digital control system developed by Yablochkov.
The device works as follows: the power converter changes direct current to alternating current which then flows to one of the coils. As a result, the coil emits a short-range magnetic field with a frequency of 85 kHz. This field then induces a secondary current in the coupled coil, located 160 to 300 mm away. That energy is then converted to direct current again, stabilized, and stored inside the vehicle’s battery. If the emitting coil is embedded in the road, then the receiving coil can be attached underneath the car.
As of this moment, the researchers managed to successfully build and test their first prototype which has a power output of 11 kW. It is capable of fully charging a car battery in six to seven hours with an efficiency of 95%.
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Starting the charging process requires almost no effort on the driver’s part. They simply have to park the car at a designated spot, connect to the station via an app, thus signaling the software that the car is there to be charged, and then pay for the energy. The technology is completely harmless to humans and animals, as it has been designed in compliance with sanitary regulations and standards to only ever output safe amounts of electromagnetic radiation.
“Another advantage of wireless systems is that they can be used in diverse and extreme climates. The coils that are embedded in the ground are insulated by a layer that protects them from rain, mud, and even snow,” adds Maxim Chinnov, Yablochkov’s leading circuit engineer.
Last of all, the developers highlight that their system uses the SAE J2954 power transfer standard which makes it compatible with all types of vehicles – from cars and buses to driverless taxis and forklifts.
What lies ahead
By the summer of 2023, the researchers plan to increase the power of their charging system to 50 kW. They will also optimize the device to make it possible to embed it into the ground. These changes will make it possible to achieve 80% charge in a car battery in just one hour. There are also plans to create a large-scale charging station with a power output of 300 kW designed for electric buses. It is estimated that such a project may take around a year to complete.