How EVs Could Be Improved to Cope with Temperature Extremes

A typical lithium-ion EV battery consists of a positive cathode, a negative anode and a liquid electrolyte that facilitates the movement of lithium ions. This design works optimally when temperatures are between 68–86 degrees Fahrenheit; lower temperatures tend to slow down lithium ions in the battery and lead to lower performance.

As temperatures become colder, charge-carrying lithium ions find it harder to travel through the electrolyte. This results in slower recharging rates and can cause batteries to lose charge faster; it can also cost batteries up to 30% of their range. Colder temperatures also often result in long wait times at public charging stations because recharging EVs takes longer than usual.

In Chicago, for instance, many EV drivers had to wait for hours at charging stations during a recent cold snap, and many of them were left stranded when their batteries gave out while they were in line.

According to Paul Gasper, an Electrochemical Energy Storage group staff scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, extremely cold temperatures increase the safety risks involved in EV charging. Lithium batteries are safe to use between 32–140 degrees Fahrenheit.  Electric vehicle range falls by around 12% when temperatures are at -7 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 75 degrees F, the American Automobile Association says. Charging an EV below 32 degrees F temperatures causes lithium ions to build up at the anode and form clumps in a process called plating

Plating can result in short circuits and, in rare cases, can trigger an explosion. With battery electric vehicles expected to play a much larger role in vehicular transportation over the next couple of decades, carmakers and scientists are working to mitigate the poor performance EVs experience during cold weather.

Some solutions include developing more advanced computer models that keep EV batteries performing at peak levels as well as developing sturdier batteries that can better withstand temperature extremes. As software plays a major role in EV performance, boosting electric vehicle software using artificial intelligence (AI) models can also help EV batteries run efficiently and safely in suboptimal temperatures.

A Tesla feature called preconditioning also allows drivers to heat or cool their electric vehicle batteries to optimal charging temperatures before they plug in. Even so, Gasper says these solutions need more work. Advanced and more weather-resilient batteries could be the key to addressing the cold weather issue.

UC San Diego scientists have created a new electrolyte that functions effectively in temperatures as low as -40 degrees F and as high as 122 degrees F. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University also created a self-heating battery prototype that could fast charge at temperatures as low as -58 degrees F.

Whatever the solution is, researchers will have to balance safety, performance and cost. Gasper also suggests tailoring battery designs for different climates, with drivers in colder regions using EV batteries designed for cold weather while those in hotter climates leverage EV heat-resistant batteries.

It remains to be seen how EV makers such as Rivian Automotive Inc. (NASDAQ: RIVN) will tweak their models to make them better suited to retain optimal battery performance during the different temperature extremes that manifest during different seasons of the year.

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