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This company wants to pack more EV-charging punch into gas stations

ADS-TEC Energy is outfitting fueling stations and convenience stores with units that integrate batteries and fast electric-vehicle chargers.
By Jeff St. John

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ADS-TEC fast EV charger at an Esso station in Stuttgart, Germany
ADS-TEC’s battery-buffered fast EV chargers are designed to pack a bigger charging punch for space-constrained locations like this Esso service station in Stuttgart, Germany. (ADS-TEC)

It’s hard to install high-speed electric-vehicle chargers in a lot of places — including the gas stations that need to adapt to the shift from fossil fuels to electricity as drivers’ fuel of choice. Fast DC chargers pull hundreds of kilowatts of power that might not be available from local utility grids. Even if the juice is available, tearing up parking lots and dedicating spots for EV charging cuts into service stations’ revenue.

But John Tuccillo, global head of corporate affairs for ADS-TEC Energy Inc., says his company’s high-speed EV-charging technology can overcome those obstacles. ADS-TEC Energy Inc. is the new U.S. arm of Nasdaq-listed ADS-TEC Energy PLC, which was formed late last year via the reverse merger of ADS-TEC Energy GmbH, an established German power electronics and microgrid provider, with a special-purpose acquisition corporation. 

Last week, ADS-TEC Energy PLC announced a partnership with Jolt Energy aimed at bringing charging to 5,000 fueling stations, starting in Europe and expanding to the U.S. in the coming year.

It’s all about the capability of the charger,” Tuccillo said of the ADS-TEC ChargeBox system, which is already deployed at service stations in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Austria and France. ADS-TEC’s multiport chargers include a battery to buffer the available power feed, so it doesn’t need utility buildouts,” he said.

And the entire package comes in a small-enough size to minimize the impact on commercial operations, important for convenience stores and filling stations that measure their performance on margins per square foot — or square meter in Europe,” he said.

These aren’t new technology concepts. Batteries are buffering grid loads for fast EV chargers being deployed in North America, Europe and Asia, and EV chargers are integrating power electronics to reduce their size and complexity.

But ADS-TEC says its particular tech integration should offer more flexibility and adaptability for service stations, convenience stores, car dealerships and other space-constrained customers that need to balance the costs of installing chargers for a relative trickle of EV drivers today with the expectation of a flood of demand for high-speed charging in years to come.

This is happening quickly in Europe,” where ADS-TEC has already deployed ChargeBox systems, Tuccillo said. Now it’s targeting the U.S. as the country girds for a major buildout of fast-charging stations, boosted by billions of dollars in federal, state and utility funding and driven by the expectation of millions of EVs on the road in the coming years.

ADS-TEC CEO Thomas Speidel sees his company becoming the technology platform provider, including recurring services, for the future power companies” building these EV-charging networks. One of the trigger points will be millions of EVs coming into the market,” he said on a call with Raymond James analysts in March. To make them convenient in daily use, you need to have superchargers that allow you to recharge your cars within minutes instead of hours.”

Packing so much electrical punch into a commercial business’s available real estate is a technically challenging task. But Speidel argued that his company has a leg up thanks to its decades of experience in microgrid power controls, its three years of co-development work with German automaker Porsche, and its work with Bosch, the German industrial giant that took a 39 percent stake in the company in 2018

An ADS-TEC ChargeBox installation at a service station in Spain (ADS-TEC)
An ADS-TEC ChargeBox installation at a service station in Spain (ADS-TEC)

What ADS-TEC has packed into its battery-buffered EV chargers

ADS-TEC already had about 300 megawatt-hours of energy storage installed in commercial and industrial settings across Europe before Porsche and Bosch took an interest in the automotive applications of the company’s technology, Tuccillo said. The company’s backup-power and microgrid-control capabilities are integral to how its ChargeBox systems work.

A slide deck used in a recent presentation to investors covers some of the company’s key differentiators, including its silicon-carbide-based power electronics to manage the interplay of electricity flowing between the grid, the battery contained in the ChargeBox unit, and the multiple charging ports that plug into EVs.

This fully integrated system differs from many of the deployments in the field today that combine batteries, EV chargers and power-conversion systems from different manufacturers, Tuccillo noted. Beyond the lithium-ion battery packs it gets from South Korean manufacturer Samsung, the hardware and software going into the ChargeBox system are designed and built in-house, he said.

The system is designed to allow the ChargeBox to pull power from distribution grids that have limited capacity and step up the power to serve multiple fast-charging EVs, he said. Specifically, the ChargeBox is able to tap into a 480-volt AC grid connection offering from 110 kilowatts to as low as 50 kilowatts of power, and boost the charging voltage to up to 980 volts DC and between 270 kilowatts to 320 kilowatts of charging capacity, split between two separate charging systems.

Those specifications were designed around the Porsche Taycan, a power-hungry sports EV that had the highest charging capacity of any EV on the road, at 270 kilowatts, when it debuted in 2019. It’s also a good proxy for the newest ultra-fast charging systems, which are expanding from first-generation 50-kilowatt charging to up to 350 kilowatts at the high end.

ADS-TEC has also designed its battery system to boost the power output for charging vehicles at the same time it’s recharging from the grid, as this graph shows. 

ADS-TEC chart of a 190kw charging session using battery to buffer draw on a 50kw grid interconnection
An ADS-TEC ChargeBox can charge an EV at 190 kW from a 50 kW grid connection by using its battery to reduce grid demand. (ADS-TEC)

That’s an important factor for battery-backed charging systems that might otherwise deplete their battery capacity and have to wait to recharge before serving the next EVs in line for a charge-up, Tuccillo said. Without it, you end up with a long line of vehicles waiting for juice.”

These aren’t completely novel capabilities for battery-buffered fast chargers, said Sunil Chhabra, senior technical executive for EV integration with the utility-backed research organization Electric Power Research Institute. The use of energy storage as a buffer for electric-vehicle charging has been out there for a long time,” he said, and EPRI has been working on advanced semiconductors and power controls for EV charging for more than a decade.

Successful application of these concepts boils down to execution,” he said. It’s possible to isolate the delivery of the current” to EVs from the recharging of the batteries, but that requires careful management to avoid prematurely reducing a battery’s lifetime capacity, he noted. Electrical architecture is very important,” he said. How do you interconnect these systems?”

But Chhabra agreed that many customers will want EV fast-charging systems that can provide more power than what’s available from the grid at any moment in time. Fast chargers use a lot of power very quickly, he noted. But most aren’t being used that often, particularly in these early days of EV adoption.

Even showcase fast-charging plazas being built by European oil companies such as Shell and EV-charging providers such as Gridserve are seeing between 20 and 50 percent utilization, Chhabra said. Vehicles come in during rush hour and place a lot of demand on the system,” he said. But at many other hours of the day, those plazas’ stalls are sitting empty.

These low utilization rates are one reason why many gas stations and convenience stores are having a hard time justifying the high upfront cost of installing fast EV chargers, Tuccillo pointed out. But those that want to win EV drivers as customers will have to think ahead about the costs of not supplying them with the charging they need — or installing systems that can’t handle a lot of them at once.

ADS-TEC says its battery-integrated systems are worth the extra upfront cost compared to stand-alone fast chargers, based on how much they can save in permitting, construction and electricity costs. The company claims that a typical ChargeBox installation can be done at about 18 percent lower cost than installation of a standard non-battery-based DC charger.

As for total cost of ownership (TCO) over a 10-year period, ADS-TEC says its ChargeBox is about 30 percent lower than the equivalent amount of non-battery charging. That’s largely due to the battery preventing charging hosts from incurring expensive demand charges, the rates that utilities charge businesses based on their peak power use at any moment in time. 

Chart of up-front installation and long-term operations savings for ADS-TEC Chargebox
ADS-TEC says that up-front installation savings and long-term operating savings can make up for the additional costs of its ChargeBox system. (ADS-TEC)

Batteries add cost and space requirements to any fast-charging installation, noted Jay Smith, executive director of the Charge Ahead Partnership, a group representing U.S. service stations and convenience stores that are considering adding EV-charging capability. That’s made them a tough sell for many of his group’s members.

Still, battery storage is viewed as a long-term potential solution to dealing with something like demand charges,” he said. What space-constrained convenience stores and small retailers really want is a small battery…that can charge five vehicles at the same time.”

Finding the fit for fast charging in today’s auto-destination business models

Whether the future of gas stations fits with the future of EV charging is very much an open question. A number of news reports and research papers have questioned the viability of the traditional service-station and convenience-store business model in a world where EVs can be charged mostly at home, and relatively conveniently at workplaces or during shopping trips.

So far, the major U.S. fast-charging networks like Electrify America, EVgo and Tesla have largely built stand-alone charging plazas or deployed their chargers at shopping centers, sporting venues and other destinations. But service-station and convenience-store chains like 7-Eleven and Pilot Flying J are making fast-charging plans of their own, Tuccillo noted.

The issue of where to put EV fast chargers is becoming an important issue as states make plans for how to spend their share of $5 billion in federal funding from last year’s infrastructure law to deploy EV chargers along major transportation corridors. Industry groups representing fuel retailers and other roadside businesses successfully lobbied to keep a ban on public highway rest stops hosting commercial businesses including fast-charging stations.

The Charge Ahead Partnership is asking state regulators to limit utilities from opening fast-charging stations that would compete with private businesses. It is a huge economic barrier to get into the EV-charging business if you have to compete with somebody who doesn’t have to pass their costs on to the driver,” like utilities that are allowed to include the costs of EV-charging infrastructure in customer electricity rates, Smith said.

At the same time, locations with enough grid capacity to support a significant number of fast chargers are limited and don’t often overlap with places where people go to refuel their fossil-fueled vehicles today. That’s particularly true in dense urban environments such as New York City, where excess grid capacity is a rare commodity, and it can take months if not years and cost millions of dollars to upgrade it. ADS-TEC is targeting these types of constrained areas for its ChargeBox, Tuccillo said.

Car dealerships are another target market, he said. Earlier this year, ADS-TEC launched a partnership with GenZ EV Solutions, a newly formed company that’s developing a charging-as-a-service business model for auto dealers that face significant costs and grid-interconnection challenges as they shift to hosting EVs on their sales lots.

How are they going to charge these vehicles in an efficient and fast way, and not get into expensive and time-consuming grid upgrades?” GenZ CEO José Valls, former chair of Nissan North America, said in a May interview. Technologies like the ChargeBox that can support multiple vehicles from a single installation can reduce total costs of ownership significantly, he said.

The costs and constraints burdening gas stations and car dealerships reflect a broader challenge facing the U.S. as it seeks to meet state and federal goals to shift a significant portion of vehicles from fossil fuels to electricity. Reaching the Biden administration’s goal of EVs making up half of all new car sales by 2030 will require a massive investment in charging, with estimates ranging from $85 billion to more than $100 billion.

EPRI’s Chhabra agreed that the country will need grid-friendly fast-charging systems that, like ADS-TEC’s ChargeBox, are cleverly designed” in order to make a difference” when it comes to deploying EV chargers as quickly as possible to meet these kinds of targets. But everything comes with its own complexity and cost.” 

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media. He covers innovative grid technologies, rooftop solar and batteries, clean hydrogen, EV charging and more.