Overcoming the challenges for electric vehicles: what battery thermal management can do to progress innovation
By Mila Marinkovic, Senior Consultant
The EU aims to have at least 30 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads by 2030, and the automotive industry has made huge advances in battery technologies in EV development to keep striving towards this goal. Uptake of electric vehicles has not yet met expectations. There are concerns about lengthy charging times and the realistic range between charges, plus lack of infrastructure to charge vehicles without very carefully planned journeys unless you are travelling within a metropolis. Cost is also a big issue and part of that conversation is reflected in battery lifetime. Attention has started to focus more on battery thermal management to manage the temperature, speed of charge and lifetime of EV batteries.
Battery thermal management systems (BTMS) are methods employed to keep the temperature in a battery pack within a fixed range – ideally between 20 and 40 °c – avoiding excessive fluctuations and maintaining an even temperature from cell to cell. Methods to control the temperature of a battery tend to follow two routes: passive or active management. Active BTMS refers to technology that forces a change of battery temperature using a source of energy, and typically include the use of an air or liquid based cooling medium. A passive thermal management relies solely on the thermo-dynamics of conduction, convection and radiation to achieve the cooling results. There are arguments for both. Currently for example, Nissan uses a passive air-cooled battery, whereas Tesla incorporates the active circulation of a coolant fluid in its cars. By maintaining the battery temperature, safety is improved and the battery power itself can be significantly more effective. Managing temperature also maintains lifecycle and batteries are less likely to suffer from ‘fade’; a key concern of the consumer market.
Automotive manufacturers are looking at ways to get and stay competitive and have the edge in the market. The higher dependence on batteries, which is only going to continue to grow, means thermal battery management is a crucial part of the overall tech innovation process for the Tier One suppliers. In 2019 the thermal management was a new focus within automotive, but still had a market valued at over $1 billion. Since then, the continued development of electric vehicles has increased the need for thermal management, and it is though that its market will increase by over 25% year on year due to this. Gentherm, Bosch and Continental are leading the innovation in this area and are hiring technical talent to support business and development growth.
The main challenge for those market leaders is to develop a technology that can be effective within both the higher and lower temperature boundaries, preserving the lifecycle of the battery and maintaining consumer safety. There is still significant improvements to make and balance to be achieved to ensure the highest performance with the smallest compromise at the lowest cost.
A significant amount of BMS and BTMS talent either sits in Asia Pacific or having previously worked there, has moved to other global locations where some are now on an expatriated assignment in the Americas or EMEA. An impressive 80% of the global automotive battery decisions are made in Asia Pacific due to the pack providers being headquartered there, including CATL and LG Energy Solutions. To identify, assess and hire people within this space clients need to know their partners have deep domain knowledge and networks to secure the demanded talent. It’s feasible that qualified candidates are sitting within adjacent markets, for example energy storage or consultancies, however Miramar’s experience dictates that when the decisive moment arrives, automotive experience remains unnegotiable for the present time.