Boosting electric cars
Using space technology for everyday applications here on Earth has many societal benefits. Today, for instance, an adapted Mars plasma drill technology is poised to help in the growing use of electric cars.
“While under contract with ESA to develop a new plasma drill to probe Mars and asteroids, we realised that the same transformers we were developing for the space drill could also make the best chargers for electric cars,” said CEO Brage Johansen from Norwegian Zaptec, the company behind the drill.
“Today’s car chargers are clumpy and impractical, even weighing up to 100 kg. Using the technology we developed for our ESA space plasma drill, we got ours down to 2 kg.”
Drawing on the same voltage as a vacuum cleaner, the charger can be plugged into any household socket without blowing a fuse. Zaptec’s innovation lies in the compact transformers that provide the voltage for the plasma spark for space drilling, thanks to advanced cooling techniques and miniaturisation.
“Renault Paris development department chose our Zaptec charger in competition with technology suppliers around the world,” added Bård Johansen, Zaptec Charger Managing Director.
Earlier this month the company signed a contract valued at €7.5 million with Renault Norway for the delivery of portable chargers for the Zoe electric car line. The next phase is to deliver the space spin-off charger to Renault worldwide.
“Our competitive advantage is that we have our own development team who knows and has developed product from scratch. The development of the charger to our plasma drill for space gave us a sound base to create an efficient product for the growing electric car market,” added Brage.
“For space safety and quality at all levels are the key to succeed. The same is also required to reach a competitive advantage in the automotive market. Working with space and ESA we got that.”
The plasma drill under development for future missions to Mars and asteroids produces small sparks of lightning 1–5 cm long that pulverise the rock from within.
Today’s drill technology only enables drilling to a depth of about 2 m for missions such as on the ExoMars rover.
It is believed that Mars might have underground water, which could potentially harbour life, but this will require deeper drilling capabilities to at least 10 m. The plasma drill could be the solution.
“Zaptec’s reuse of their special space technology to power a plasma drill on Mars to charge electric car batteries is a good example of how developments in our European space programmes can help other industrial sectors,” said Fredrik Fjellså from Validé (formerly Prekubator TTO), the Norwegian broker in ESA’s space solutions network, part of the Agency's Technology Transfer Programme.
“This Zaptec space technology will be a great help for the growing use of environment-friendly electric cars.”
More on the space drill and the car charger here.