“But how far can it go?” Overcoming mental blocks for buying electric vehicles
There are numerous technologies and innovations to alleviate “range anxiety”
There’s no contesting that the list of advantages offered by electric vehicles is long. They’re fun to drive, quiet, cheaper to maintain and, most of all, kinder to the environment. It’s now been shown that electric vehicles emit less greenhouse gasses and air pollutants over their lifespan than passenger cars running on fossil fuel — even when you factor in manufacturing and energy generation.
Buoyed by these arguments, in addition to increasingly stringent municipal regulations pushing motorists to switch to low-emission vehicles, the market share of electric cars keeps growing year after year. Yet it still lags behind as a first choice for the car-buying public. Beyond the issue of cost (which advances in technology and engineering should mitigate in the near future), there is a psychological factor that explains the barrier to wider EV adoption: “Range Anxiety”.
The solution is in the EV Battery
Range Anxiety refers to the fear that an electric vehicle won’t carry enough reach between charges to take us where we want to go. A common consumer perception is the worry that the typical EV range will force them to forgo long road trips or expose them to the risk of being left stranded in the middle of nowhere (we’ve all seen the Black Mirror episode!). And dwelling on some of the other factors that might prematurely drain an EV battery (cold weather – which causes an approximate 20% drop in vehicle range – stop-and-go traffic, battery age, the heating and cooling of the passenger compartment…) only makes matters worse.
The solution to move towards greater mass-market adoption is therefore to ease that anxiety by extending travel range and increasing charging speed – and it’s a cure that begins with the battery. Of course, improvements on battery performance must be part of a holistic approach to optimize all systems in an EV’s beating heart, such as enhanced electric motor efficiency and more robust power electronics. Concretely speaking, the future mass adoption of electric vehicles depends on finding the right combination of next-generation breakthroughs, increased power density, improved heat transfer and lighter-weight parts.
Some manufacturers are already making breakthroughs with innovative ideas such as putting the motors in the wheels. Hitachi’s in-wheel motor combines a motor, inverter and brake into a single unit, and enables greater range; what’s more, it holds a world-class power density of 2.5 kW/kg. Another path being explored is dual motor vehicles: instead of distributing the power in all-wheel drive electric vehicles from a single motor, certain brands such as Tesla have started powering them with dual motors.
The right chemistries for the right EV solutions
The good news is, for all the key issues crucial to making longer range electric cars – namely battery density, electric motor efficiency, power electronics robustness and lightweighting – technologies and solutions are readily available to help manufacturers create EVs that will have all the arguments to soothe the anxieties of buyers.
What kinds of technologies and solutions? Well, things like high-performance polymers, thermoplastics, additives, formulations, salts, solvents and composite materials.
In the field of battery efficiency and density, where the objective is to increase run time or energy output relative to size, the key is to improve performance and durability, accelerate charging speed and enhance safety, including for higher voltage applications and at low temperatures. This can be achieved through the use of fluorinated electrolyte ingredients enabling high-capacity anodes and high-voltage cathodes, highly efficient fluoropolymer binders or high purity lithium salts offering superior electrochemical and thermal properties.
To reduce the size and weight of e-motors in order to expand travel range and improve vehicle packaging space, efficient and lightweight components are required for stator systems, connectors, busbars and sensors, made of materials that can optimize heat transfer, and minimize electrical and magnetic losses, while lowering manufacturing costs. Think thermoplastics exhibiting exceptional thermal, abrasion and chemical resistance, liquid crystal polymers designed for miniaturization, and semi-crystalline polymers with great toughness, thermal conductivity, heat resistance and electrical insulation, for instance.
The same goes for power electronics. Boosting their performance by condensing their packaging, reducing their weight and avoiding electromagnetic pollution is integral to developing electric vehicles that are less expensive, more efficient and a lot safer, thanks to innovations that will optimize the functionality of the on-board charger, converter and inverter. For miniaturized and highly resistant connectors, rods and busbars, for example, best-in-class aromatic polyamides are a winning solution, as are polymer solutions that can replace much heavier aluminum or magnesium components while offering the same level of tensile strength and modulus.
For overall lightweighting purposes, to make EVs that consume less energy while being easier to maneuver, composite materials are the perfect metal replacement. Not only are they lighter, they also boast great fire retardant and anti-corrosion properties and offer better energy absorption over solid metals, for greater protection upon impact.
Manufacturers can start by replacing metal with polymers and composite materials in exterior parts (rearview mirrors, wipers, door handles), structural and semi-structural parts (bumpers, engine supports, seat structures…), and mechanical components. This will initially offset the weight of batteries, electric motors and power electronics, and eventually make way for an extended driving range for cars and trucks. What’s more, bonding additives, when applied to aluminum surfaces prior to bonding, improve adhesive strength, which enhances durability even in the most severe conditions.
Combined, these numerous and diverse materials, solutions and technologies are a big part of the answer in the quest to make the choice of an electric vehicle a no-brainer when it comes to buying a new car.