NASA Unveils New Space Technology Can Charge Electric Cars in Just 5-Minutes

The US space agency NASA has said, in a press release, that a new technology for future space missions, which is funded by NASA, can charge an electric car on Earth in just five minutes.

Researchers at Purdue University in the US have developed a Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment (FBCE) to enable two-phase fluid flow and heat transfer experiments in the long-duration microgravity environment on the International Space Station (ISS).

The invention of this new technology arised from the very fact that numerous future NASA space missions will involve complex systems that must maintain specific temperatures to operate. These systems—including nuclear fission power systems for missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond; vapor compression heat pumps to support Lunar and Martian habitats; and systems to provide thermal control and advanced life support onboard spacecraft—will require advanced heat transfer capabilities to execute the thermal control required.

Subcooled flow boiling captured in the FBCE on the ISS
Subcooled flow boiling captured in the FBCE on the International Space Station. (Image: Purdue University/Issam Mudawar)

A team sponsored by NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division is developing a new technology that will not only achieve orders-of-magnitude improvement in heat transfer to enable these systems to maintain proper temperatures in space, but will also enable significant reductions in size and weight of the hardware.

This same technology may make owning an electric-powered car here on Earth easier and more feasible.

At present, electric vehicles charging times vary widely enough. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes at a charging station on the road to hours to charge at home. 

Longer charging times and charger space, both of which are major concerns of people who are considering buying an electric vehicle

Reducing the charging time for electric vehicles to five minutes – could be the goal of the entire industry. This would require a charging system to provide electrical current at 1,400 amps.

Currently, advanced chargers only provide up to 520 amps of current, and most chargers available to consumers supply currents of less than 150 amps.

However, charging systems that provide 1,400 amps will generate significantly more heat than existing systems, and better methods will be needed to control the temperature

Recently, the team applied technology learned from the NASA FBCE experiments to the electric vehicle charging process.

The FBCE’s Flow Boiling Module includes heat-generating devices mounted along the walls of a flow channel into which coolant is supplied in liquid state. As these devices heat up, the temperature of the liquid in the channel increases, and eventually the liquid adjacent to the walls starts to boil. The boiling liquid forms small bubbles at the walls that depart from the walls at high frequency, constantly drawing liquid from the inner region of the channel toward the channel walls (see figure below). This process efficiently transfers heat by taking advantage of both the liquid’s lower temperature and the ensuing change of phase from liquid to vapor. This process is greatly ameliorated when the liquid supplied to the channel is in a subcooled state (i.e., well below the boiling point).

Subcooled flow boiling captured in the FBCE on the International Space Station. (Image: Purdue University/Issam Mudawar)

This new technique, learned from FBCE,  called “subcooled flow boiling” (image above) results in greatly improved heat transfer effectiveness compared to other approaches and could be used to control the temperatures of future systems in space.

Through subcooled flow boiling, the team removed 24.22 kWh of heat to achieve 4.6 times the current of the fastest electric vehicle chargers available in the market today, the researchers said.

Purdue University’s charging cable can provide 2,400 amperes, which is far beyond the 1,400 amperes required to reduce time required to charge an electric car to five minutes. Application of this new technology resulted in unprecedented reduction of the time required to charge a vehicle and may remove one of the key barriers to worldwide adoption of electric vehicles. 

FBCE was tested and delivered to the ISS in August of last year and began providing microgravity flow boiling data in early 2022.  

Results from these FBCE experiments will enable the design of future space systems that require temperature control, but this technology also has applications on Earth—specifically, it could make owning an electric car more appealing

Before electric cars can become widely used, certain challenges must be overcome. First, a network of charging stations must be deployed along highways and roads to enable charging of electric vehicles. Second, the time required to charge a vehicle must be reduced.

Currently, charging times vary widely, from 20 minutes at a station alongside a roadway to hours using an at-home charging station.  Lengthy charging times and charger location are both cited as major concerns of people who are considering electric vehicle ownership.

"Application of this new technology resulted in unprecedented reduction of the time required to charge a vehicle and may remove one of the key barriers to worldwide adoption of electric vehicles," said NASA in an announcement, made this Tuesday. 

Interestingly, space agencies worldwide are bringing technologies developed for usage in Space or Microgravity, for people here on the Earth. Recently, Indian space agency ISRO unvelied intelligent artificial limb, controlled by a microprocessor, for above-knee amputees to walk with a comfortable gait. 

Source — NASA


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