Industrial and Commercial Transportation Goes Electric
Megawatt charging is on track to boost power and reduce charging times to make electrifying all sorts of industrial and commercial transportation vehicles a viable option.
Vehicle makers throughout the industrial and commercial transportation market are embracing e-mobility. Electric versions of semi-trucks, vehicles used in mining and agriculture, and regional transportation vehicles, including buses, ferries, and smaller aircraft such as eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing), are either in development or already exist.
One of the main engineering challenges associated with e-mobility, particularly for large vehicles like long-haul trucks, is generating enough power to charge them faster and less frequently. “Basically, if the vehicle is not moving and doing its job, it’s not making any money. Unlike a passenger vehicle that’s driven one or two hours a day and sits the rest of the time, the uptime on a commercial vehicle needs to be much, much longer,” said Drew Reetz, global product manager, charging inlets – Industrial and Commercial Transportation, TE Connectivity (TE). Because commercial vehicles are considerably larger than passenger cars, they require larger battery packs, and a longer period of time to fully charge.
Reetz explained that initiatives are being developed to solve that problem. “Current legislation is in place to incentivize electric vehicles and to reduce overall carbon emissions. Energy and industrial suppliers are working on improvements to the electrical grid and putting in higher power charging stations. On the vehicle side, we’re developing new charging inlets and other connectors that can handle those higher voltage and current ratings to increase the amount of power going into the vehicle and decrease the charging time.”
Charging inlets are evolving from what is already available for the automotive market. “The original generation of low power charging inlets were AC only and would take over 10 hours to fully charge a passenger vehicle. Combo charging introduced the DC fast charge, which is rated up to about 250 amps of current. And then the high power charging inlet, which is on the latest version to hit the market, goes up to 500 amps of current at 1000 volts. So that shift from the AC-only charging inlet to the 500 amp high-power charging decreases the charging time significantly. A passenger vehicle can now get a full charge within an hour. But when we talk about industrial and commercial transportation with the larger battery packs, that still isn’t enough,” Reetz said.
One of the products TE is developing as part of its HIVONEX portfolio of connectors and charging inlets for e-mobility is the megawatt charging inlet (MCS) that will be a completely new interface. While the current interfaces for charging inlets are mostly standardized by region (North America, Europe, or China), this next generation inlet would be standard across regions and designed to handle much higher power levels, over 1000 amps of current at first and up to 3000 amps long term. These inlets would allow the larger vehicles with larger battery packs to recharge quickly to maintain the uptime their owners require. “We see this rolling out around 2024-2025. We’re in the development phase and now we’re starting to launch samples out to the marketplace for customer feedback on what we can do to improve it or to get that early performance input,” said Reetz.
To further this mission, CharIN (Charging Interface Initiative e. V.), a global association dedicated to promoting interoperability based on the Combined Charging System (CCS), has brought together a wide range of industry stakeholders such as automakers, charging station manufacturers, component suppliers (including TE), energy providers, and grid operators. In 2018, CharIN initiated the Megawatt Charging System (MCS) Task Force to invent a holistic system approach. Members work with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to conduct interoperability and power testing. “We learn how the design currently performs or how it can be improved, and make sure that we’re able to develop an end standard that we can all agree on to address the higher power, faster charging needs for commercial vehicles,” said Reetz.
Another challenge is ensuring that the components are reliable and robust enough for the demands of the industrial commercial transportation market. Heavy duty trucks used in agriculture, construction, and mining are subjected to higher levels of shock and vibration than passenger vehicles and have greater exposure to dust, dirt, and water. Meeting the vibration requirements and ingress protection ratings is crucial. For marine vehicles, water sealing requirements are even more critical, along with demands for corrosion resistance against saltwater exposure.
Keeping connectivity products simple and easy to put together is also an important consideration. “Simplifying the cable assembly process and incorporating modularity is one challenge that we’re working on and we’ve done a successful job. Our products are easier for the harness maker to assemble and reduce the cost to put everything together, while still meeting the higher vibration and higher IP rating for the final products,” said Reetz.
Although the upfront cost for electric vehicles is higher right now because the cost of the batteries is still quite expensive and, the infrastructure isn’t yet in place to support the higher power levels needed in the grid, the benefits to electrifying commercial and industrial vehicles are significant. In addition to using a cleaner energy source, the vehicle architecture of an electric vehicle is much simpler than a traditional internal combustion engine.
“For a fleet manager, with multiple semi-trucks, the overall maintenance and risk of breaking down is less. There are fewer moving parts to repair and maintain over the lifetime of the vehicles —no oil changes, no traditional transmission, fewer gears,” said Reetz. “We’ve come a long way in the last three to five years. It’s a very exciting time for e-mobility. There’s a lot of innovation going on within TE and within the industry in general.”
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