2004-2009 Toyota Prius battery pack, second generationEnlarge Photo
We all know that battery packs are the biggest Achilles Heel of the electric car, which is why automakers like Nissan and General Motors are working hard to improve the energy density, cost and lifespan of electric vehicle batteries.
But once you've designed a new battery pack, how do you prove its lifespan without waiting year and years?
You’d think that some complex math, along with some basic scientific theory would answer the problem, but life is rarely as predictable as a science lab.
Instead, physicists, chemists, battery firms and automakers are working together to build sophisticated equipment that can give electric car battery packs a lifetime of testing in a few weeks.
In turn, the test equipment could aid the development of cheaper, more energy-dense battery packs for electric cars that would easily outlive the life of any electric car.
Enter Dalhousie University professor Jeff Dahn and his research team.
Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack in environmental test chamberEnlarge Photo
Working with the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and a list of private-sector partners that include 3M Canada and Manga E-Car Systems, Dahn and his team are embarking on a five-year project designed to take the guesswork out of predicting battery life.
Funded to the tune of nearly $4.1 million, the 25-strong team will examine how efficiently battery packs store and deliver electrical charges over time using tests that better replicate the real-world duty cycle of electric car and electrical grid-storage battery packs.
In order to do this, the researchers will build new equipment that they claim will give battery packs a lifetime of use in just a few weeks, producing accurate battery degradation data that can then be used to better predict electric car battery life.
What’s the result for electric car owners? Lower costs.
If more accurate data exists to predict battery life, automakers should be able to improve on-board battery management systems to more accurately anticipate battery degradation.
With a more accurate way to predict battery life, engineers can then work on producing cheaper and higher-density battery packs free from the worry of unknown pack-life.
Advanced Battery PackEnlarge Photo
There’s a big benefit for those leasing or considering making a used electric car purchase.
At the moment, leasing companies tend to give electric cars very low residual values after a few years, caused in part by uncertainty around battery life.
As a consequence, lease payments may be higher to ensure the leasing companies are not out of pocket at the end of the lease.
If more accurate battery life-evaluations can be given, perhaps with the aid of testing hardware designed to be used by garage mechanics at service time, leasing companies can amortize the higher purchase cost of an electric car over a longer period.
In turn, those buying a used electric car will be able to better evaluate the true lifespan of its battery pack before handing over any money.
Cheaper, more predictable electric cars? That has to be a good thing.