Why AI and Advanced Manufacturing Are the Answer to the Question Surrounding EV Safety
Credit: Cali Naughton, Unsplash
As the world keeps working towards a green revolution, alternatives to fossil fuels are constantly tried and tested. From home power to transportation, how we get around when using fossil fuels produces high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and generates air pollution.
In an effort to combat this, it is estimated that by 2025, 20% of all new cars sold globally will be electric. This is estimated to leap to 40% by 2030 before by 2040, almost every new car sold globally will be electric.
However, as EV popularity continues to rise, so is the concern surrounding the safety issue of how flammable they actually are.
EV Fires and their Causes
Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed a lot of news coverage of EVs taking fire. The immediate suspect? The car battery. However, although the car batteries may cause the fire, EVs are much less dangerous than a combustion engine and they have far fewer incidents. Nonetheless, as the world moves towards EVs, this topic is getting a lot of media attention. So what factors cause these fires?
From the lack of uniformity to bad heat dissipation creating hotspots, if one battery cell overheats, a chain reaction can be set off. With up to 7,000 batteries per EV holding enough power to operate a vehicle for a few hundreds of miles, it’s essential to understand how to prevent these fires from starting. Indeed, the biggest EV manufacturers including GM and Tesla have both been there.
GM’s Chevy Bolt EV Fires
The Chevy Bolt EV had already been recalled twice for the risk of battery fire after a dozen fires occurred in just over a year. The first recall was provided with a fix six months later, which did not fully work. Two months later, they were recalled again after four fires occurred in a month. The latest instance of a Chevy Bolt EV fire happened on 16th August 2021 in California when a car, that was in the driveway all day and still plugged in, suddenly emitted a loud bang and smoke started coming out of the side of the car. Three minutes later, a fire was visible from under the car while four minutes after that, the aluminum body panels were melting. While the fire department made it to the site 10 minutes after the smoke erupted, the car was already fully on fire by then. It was very clearly a battery fire.
Late 2020, a couple was asleep in their home in San Francisco when they got an alert from their Tesla Model S saying that charging had been interrupted. Twelve minutes later, they were woken up to a blaring car alarm and a fire consuming their house. The fire had started in one of their two EVs parked in their garage and spread to the other. The issue of what can happen when EVs are left in garages to charge overnight has caused concern with many EV makers warning owners to not leave their cars unattended while charging or sitting fully charged in garages.
While EV fires can burn longer due to the chemicals in the batteries, they are actually rarer than internal combustion engine car fires. Additionally autonomous vehicles are also statistically safer than their combustion counterparts. As such, EVs are no more dangerous in an accident than their internal combustion counterparts, mainly due to crash test regulations that must be met and sustained across the board for every personal vehicle sold in the world.
Safety Issues Prevention
With car manufacturers determined to keep on expanding EV presence on the market, they know that to convince future buyers, their safety issues must be resolved. As such, from developing softwares to monitor problems to higher safety battery cells to advanced cooling systems among others, what is an issue today will be extremely small in the future.
Monitoring Problems with Software
Car manufacturers are integrating Battery Management Systems (BMS) into their EVs with the aim of protecting, monitoring and optimizing the batteries. These BMS can prevent the batteries from operating outside of their safe areas and within their safety capacity, estimate their state of health and state of charge during and charging and discharging, and balance the cells to optimize the battery life and capacity. Indeed, manufacturers such as Tesla and Nissan have built in fail-safe circuitry that shuts down the battery when its voltage increases beyond safe limits.
Higher Safety Battery Cells
To increase EV adoption, the public needs to be reassured that the battery packs used are safe. By having a more uniform process, battery manufacturers are able to produce batteries with better heat dissipation, higher mechanical stability and lower degradation rates.
Advanced Cooling Systems
EV manufacturers have understood that if they can’t prevent a battery cell from heating up, they need to be able to contain overheating and stop it from reaching the point where it can set off a chain reaction. While all companies use advanced cooling systems, in Tesla’s case, they lined up each cell a few millimeters away from each other, snaked liquid in a tube between them and added a thick mixture of minerals into the battery pack. This way, if a defective battery cell began to overheat, the heat would dissipate to the cooling minerals mixture, with no individual cell reaching a level where it could catch on fire.
Credit: Charlotte Stowe, Unsplash
New and Improved Technologies
While progress is constantly being made on improving EV safety, AI and other new technologies could prevent fires and solve this.
AI to the Rescue
Thanks to AI and software abilities that are becoming stronger in EVs, safety issues will dramatically improve. Indeed, Addionics is one of the few companies developing AI software with the focus on the cell level of the battery to predict performance and a potential battery failure before it happens. This, by monitoring the cell itself, which is more accurate and precise. By using this data to predict a failure, it also has the ability to predict a fire, which would decrease cases dramatically. For example, the driver would receive a message on the EV dashboard telling them that they need to replace one of the battery packs, which can be done at the garage. The software would also be able to pinpoint which battery pack is affected. Once it has been taken care of, the driver can then continue to safely drive his EV as the software predicted an issue before it happened. Moreover, based on the data that car manufacturers collect, drivers can be reassured about the safety of EVs.
Predicting Battery Behavior
One of the common reasons for battery failure is the lack of uniformity in the battery pack. As manufacturing improves and industry digitalization and AI are integrated into manufacturing processes, this will improve the uniformity of batteries and failure will happen a lot less. Car manufacturers building battery factories themselves will invest a lot in battery uniformity and digitalization. As they share data between each other, the manufacturers will know exactly how each battery cell is leaving the factory and how it’s being put into a car. Therefore, their data will allow them to predict a potential failure.
New Battery Chemistries
While most liquid materials are flammable, solid-state battery chemistries claim to be safer as solid non-liquid active material is not flammable. As a result, batteries using this material have a lower risk of catching fire. Furthermore, with solid-state active materials, fewer safety systems are needed and energy density is increased.
Safety Advantages of New Battery Architecture
Pairing 3D architecture with an AI structure optimization algorithm presents many safety advantages for new battery architecture. From advanced and uniform manufacturing to AI abilities for Battery Management Systems and manufacturing, and analysing and predicting battery cell behavior, EV batteries will become increasingly safer.
Addionics’ electrode design allows more active material to be loaded to increase energy density without compromising on safety. Furthermore, the 3D architecture enables a homogeneous temperature distribution throughout the electrodes, providing more efficient heat dissipation. This minimizes formations of hot spots that accelerate cell degradation and can in turn cause the battery to overheat. 3D architecture also provides higher mechanical stability which improves overall battery safety.
The EV’s Bright Future
With the industry constantly working towards preventing safety issues and with safety still car manufacturers’ top priority, EVs are on the path to becoming almost completely safe in terms of car batteries. But for EVs, it’s not only about safety, thanks to multiple advances in battery technology, EVs will also meet more and more requirements in terms of range, power and energy. Therefore, the mass adoption of EVs will eventually be reached.