This article is part of a series covering Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Scroll visited different projects from INL, and this publication covers the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Laboratory (EVIL) located in Idaho Falls.

At EVIL, engineers work on developing systems related to the electric vehicle (EV) industry. Their work ranges from developing test processes for current products to working with experts.

“The vision statement is changing the world’s energy future,” said Lori McNamara, public relations specialist for INL. “That’s what (EVIL) does.”

Benny Varghese, an EV research engineer at INL, describes his work as interesting, complex and impactful. His current work can be divided into two branches: experimenting with pre-market technology and participating in the ChargeX Consortium, a new program designed to improve the nation’s charging industry.

Charging station in the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Laboratory.

Charging station in the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Laboratory. Photo credit: Isabelle Justice

EV Technology

EVIL is home to a host of machinery — immediately noticeable are the three EVs the lab owns, tests and operates: Ford Mustang Mach-E, BMW and Nissan LEAF.

In the middle of the lab, a giant metal box dominates the floor. Varghese calls it a vehicle emulator. On this machine, engineers test their chargers’ capabilities.

“We as a national lab are like an independent third party,” Varghese said. “We’re able to characterize everyone under the same test conditions. That way we have a giant data set that says, ‘Hey, this is how the general market performs.'”

Much of EVIL’s work is spent developing strategies that prevent cyber attacks on charging stations, according to Varghese.

EV research engineer at INL, Benny Varghese, talks about charging stations.

Varghese explains EV charging stations. Photo credit: Isabelle Justice

ChargeX Consortium

The U.S. Joint Office of Energy and Transportation created the ChargeX Consortium in June 2023. The consortium consists of over 40 EV charging industry experts, three national laboratories, including INL, consumer advocates and other stakeholders.

“ChargeX was born out of the government reacting to a current problem,” Varghese said. “The problem being the charging network not being reliable enough.”

Varghese said that his involvement with ChargeX is different than his traditional work, which typically deals with pre-market research. Instead, ChargeX deals with already deployed chargers.

“(ChargeX) is a little bit of going back to the drawing board and thinking through, ‘Hey, this is our first rollout. It didn’t go well. How do we fix it?'” Varghese said.

Varghese explained that ChargeX is divided into three working groups. The first identifies the problem, defines the charging process and focuses on customer experience.

The second group focuses on temporary fixes.

“We want to make sure we find the top few issues,” Varghese said. “… So think of it as a temporary solution or putting a Band-Aid on the problem.”

The third group focuses on the future of charging reliability.

A complete list of consortium members can be found on INL’s website.

Benny Varghese, an EV research engineer at INL, demonstrates how to use a charging station.

Varghese demonstrates how to use a charging station. Photo credit: Isabelle Justice

Benny Varghese beyond the lab

In July, Varghese attended the Annual Pacific Northwest Economic Region Summit as a guest speaker. He talked about the benefits of electric transportation in rural areas.

At the summit, Varghese shared that installing charging stations can increase a town’s self-reliance and economic development. This is because charging an EV takes longer than filling a car with gas, giving customers more time to shop.

Varghese works with EVs every day, but even on vacations, he experiments with the technology.

“Every time we go on a personal trip, we try and rent out an EV if possible, just to get that experience,” Varghese said. “And it’s kind of fun.”

Varghese admits that EVs might not be for everyone. Those who live in Rexburg, where charging stations are available, may have use for an EV, but rural areas might not have the same resources.

“You have to use the right tool for the right job,” Varghese said. “… I think it’s more of our job to work on improving the efficiency of how energy is used. And so, we see electric vehicles as being the efficient alternative.”