BP Sees Electric Cars Charging 100% in 5 Mins by 2021: Q&A

By Bryony Collins, BloombergNEF. This article first appeared on the Bloomberg Terminal. 

BP Plc said it is focused on reducing the amount of time that drivers need to spend at refilling station forecourts, as the oil major expands its footprint in electric vehicle charging.

“Our aim is to have a battery in a car by 2021 that can be charged completely in five minutes – for a lot more than 100 kilometers,” David Eyton, head of technology at BP, told BloombergNEF in an interview at the company’s London offices. BP’s investment in Israel-based StoreDot – a maker of modified lithium-ion batteries that “charge really fast” – should help it achieve this aim, he said.

Having acquired BP Chargemaster a year ago for $170 million, BP is in the process of installing ultra-fast EV chargers at service stations in China, Germany and the U.K. Delivering a lot of power in such short bursts will require a rethink in power distribution – whether the energy is provided by the grid, or by “batteries and back-up forms of power like gas, plus demand-side response,” Eyton said.

BP is also investing in biofuel development, and sees that technology as “the best way of decarbonizing long-distance jet transport”, due to the weight sensitivity and energy density needs of aircraft, said Eyton.

Read the Q&A below.

Q: What is BP’s approach to technology in the energy transition?

A: We’ve been scaling up our venturing activity– spending about $200 million a year largely in the low-carbon space and we are now getting to the point where we have some bigger options to scale.

Chargemaster and Lightsource [solar project developer] are already operating businesses with cash flows – but in some respects they are still comparatively early-stage. BP’s engagement with those companies is very much about scaling them globally. Lightsource is now in 11 countries and in somewhere between one and 20 U.S. states. They couldn’t have done that without BP’s support as we’re already operating in those places.

It’s an earlier stage for Chargemaster, who are just in the U.K. But we are looking to take a position in electrification of transport in many countries.

Q: How do you see the role of solar playing into the overall energy mix?

A: Solar is bound to be one of the largest forms of energy on the planet – energy that is around 7,000 times human needs lands on the planet all the time, from the sun. So it’s a massive source of energy and it’s very dispersed – everyone has access to it.

We expect the cost of solar to keep on going down at much the same kind of rate as it has been to date. Just over $20 per megawatt-hour is the lowest cost of solar in some parts of the world, and that will only carry on going down.

Q: Chargemaster has 6,500 EV charge points in the U.K., and BP has 1,200 service stations. Do you expect to install batteries at some of the service stations where there are charge points?

A: Implicitly, you can supply low-carbon power virtually through the grid, without physically putting it in the same place. We are looking at the most cost-effective options around the world and it will vary considerably from place to place.

In EV charging, we’re most focused on the rate at which people can charge their cars – which has implications on how we supply power. In China, we have now installed our first service station with sixteen 60-kilowatt chargers, [and it] has very high usage rates approaching 50%. We’ve also put in ultra-fast chargers in the first five stations in Germany and we’re rolling them out in the U.K. at around 150kW each in capacity.

These ultra-fast chargers allow users to get another 100 kilometers of travel from charging their car for five minutes. So that’s not a big inconvenience to people’s normal mode of transport.

It will require a lot more power than just batteries to deliver this ultra-fast charging. We need to think hard about whether we want to localize the energy for charging stations, or whether we want big grid-scale wind power that feeds into the grid.

The grids have a big role to play in managing distribution of power. So have batteries and back-up forms of power like gas, plus demand-side response.

The constraint on how quickly charge points are rolled out is dependent upon how many electric cars there are. We need to pace the rollout of charge points ahead of demand, to give people the confidence to move to electric transport.

In our work with Chargemaster, our focus is on how to deliver power faster, rather than necessarily expanding the network.

Q: So your current aim is to allow vehicle users to charge their cars for 100km of travel in just five minutes?

A: It’s our nearer-term aim. Longer-term, we’d like to be able to give you more than 100km in five minutes. That technology isn’t commercially available yet but we’ve invested in a company called StoreDot in Israel that we think has the best shot at making a new battery that will charge really fast – it’s a modified lithium-ion battery. Today, they are making batteries for phones that allow people to charge phones in a couple of minutes. Our aim is to have a battery in a car by 2021 that can be charged completely in 5 minutes – for a lot more than 100km.

Q: How are you investing in biofuels and other ways to lower the carbon footprint of ICEs [internal combustion engine cars]?

A: Improving the energy efficiency of internal combustion engines is a big driver on reducing the cumulative atmospheric emissions. We’re delivering better fuels and lubricants, so that customers can get more mileage out of the fuel they put in their tank.

We’re also experimenting in lots of different ways around the world with biofuels. We’re one of the largest makers of bio-ethanol in Brazil and many vehicles in Brazil are flex-fuel, so they can run on 100% biofuel. Roughly 50% of the fuel in Brazil [going] into conventional cars is ethanol, so half biofuel. [Sales of gasoline in 2018 in Brazil was 27.997 thousand m3, compared to total ethanol consumption of 29.740 thousand m3 but this excludes diesel consumption].

Another venture of ours is Fulcrum Bioenergy – who turn municipal solid waste into what we call distillates – diesel and aviation kerosene. Our particular interest is in making bio-jet fuel.

Our view is that bio-jet fuel is probably going to be the best way of decarbonizing long-distance jet transport. A jet bought today will last about 25 years – which is close to the time when some people want to be at net zero.

In Europe particularly, we are increasingly putting bio-diesel into the fuel pool, sourced from fats, vegetable oils and sewer grease.

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