In the wake of federal mandates to phase out gasoline-powered cars, fast chargers for electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly becoming some of the most crucial infrastructure for the U.S. transition away from fossil fuels. And one of the most important manufacturers in that space is an Australian company that few people outside the world of clean tech have heard of.
Tritium, a publicly-held company based in Brisbane, has about 6,000 fast chargers deployed in the U.S., according to the company’s data. That’s less than Tesla, the 500-pound gorilla in the EV charging world, which has a network of nearly 7,000 fast chargers around the country and a factory in Buffalo, New York, to keep churning out more. But while Tesla recently started opening a few of its chargers to all EV owners (and plans to make thousands more universally-usable by the end of 2024) most Tesla chargers still only work for the company’s own vehicles. That leaves Tritium holding about 30% of the U.S. market for universal EV chargers, the largest share of any company. It also has the largest U.S.-based factory capacity to build those universal chargers, which will be crucial to picking up lucrative contracts as part of a new $5 billion federal push to build out EV fast chargers. (That effort, introduced under the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, stipulates that the federally-funded fast chargers must be assembled in the United States.)
Tritium’s chargers are largely marketed under other brand names, a fact that likely accounts for some of the charging giant’s lack of name recognition. When companies like Shell and ChargePoint build fast charging infrastructure, they have often bought the chargers from Tritium. Tritium’s branding is often visible on the upper part of these charging units. “Are you familiar with ‘Intel Inside’?” says Mike Calise, president of the company’s Americas division. “We’re ‘Tritium on Top.’”
Some of the most ballyhood new pushes into EV charging in recent months have relied on Tritium equipment. Tritium is supplying equipment for BP’s push into electric vehicle charging, which involves BP building out airport fast charger hubs for car rental giant Hertz’s transition into electric vehicles. Tritium is also the manufacturer behind rideshare company Revel’s ambitions to build out more than 160 fast charger stalls in New York City by the end of 2023.
The charger company has also developed close ties to the Biden Administration. Calise says the company was involved in drafting Transportation Department charger standards after the passage of the infrastructure law in November 2021, which included the $5 billion program for fast charging along highways known as the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program. The Administration also gave Tritium top billing at a February 2022 White House event on electrifying transportation, touting the company’s plan to open a factory in Lebanon, Tennessee, capable of rolling out 30,000 fast chargers a year. “The manufacturing facility Tritium announced today is more than just great news for Tennessee,” President Joe Biden said at the time, standing next to a Tritium charger. “This is great news for workers across the country, for an economy, and, frankly, for the planet.” The facility opened in August of that year.
There’s good reason for the President to lavish such attention on the Australian manufacturer. U.S.-built green infrastructure is part of the narrative that Biden is selling to the American people, and Tritium was the kind of story they wanted to highlight. Tritium CEO Jane Hunter says the company was deciding whether to build a factory in Europe or in the U.S. before the passage of the 2021 infrastructure law, but ultimately went with the Tennessee location after the bill’s funding passed. “We probably couldn’t have been more in the sweet spot of what President Biden was hoping to drive with that strategy,” says Hunter.
And, to a certain extent, the Administration’s goal of electrifying American transportation hinges on direct current (DC) fast chargers like those Tritium sells. They’re big, complicated electrical installations, not to be confused with more run of the mill level 2 charger someone might install in their garage. Those level 2 chargers may be convenient for homeowners, but they also take a few hours to charge up an EV. That’s useful for charging during the workday or overnight. But there are a lot of situations where slow charging doesn’t cut it, like on long road trips, or for anyone who doesn’t have their own driveway or parking spot that has a personal EV charging port. The U.S. needs plentiful infrastructure that resembles the current network of gas stations, but for electricity—a place where drivers can stop in, power up a car in a matter of minutes, and be on their way. The system also has to be far easier to navigate than the current hodgepodge of EV charging networks, which is plagued by broken chargers and time-wasting systems requiring customers to load money on network-specific apps to pay for charging.
The new infrastructure isn’t cheap, though: the costs for installing a DC charger can run from $28,000 to close to $140,000, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. There’s also a chicken and egg problem for companies that might be interested in building it: they need assurance that there will be enough EVs to use their DC fast chargers so they won’t lose money, but a lot of people may be holding back on switching to EVs without the existence of a reliable extensive network of fast chargers.
The government is trying to jump-start that adoption cycle, and Tritium, for its part, is well positioned to get in on the game. In February, the Transportation Department released a final rule laying out expectations for the NEVI system, mandating that new chargers can’t be out of order more than 3% of the time on average, and that the chargers accept major credit cards without using an app. They also have to meet a certain minimum charging speed, and be manufactured and assembled in the United States. Tritium says it has a fast charging system that meets those requirements, announcing the product offering in March.
Federal funding started making its way to states last fall, and the charging dollars will likely end up in the hands of multiple charger manufacturers. But Calise says Tritium will likely be in pole position—it has enough manufacturing capacity at the Tennessee facility to supply the entire program for all 50 states.
“That’s not daunting to us,” says Calise. “We need way more fast chargers than NEVI [will build]. We’re planning on that. That’s our market.”
Correction, May 16
The original version of this article misstated whether ChargePoint purchases Tritium chargers. Chargepoint has purchased chargers from Tritium in the past, but does not currently.
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