Alternative Energy

Combating range anxiety with EV innovation

13th May 2022
Sam Holland

As EVs (electric vehicles) become ever more prevalent, the concept of range anxiety is a big challenge for automakers. This piece discusses what manufacturers are doing to combat such a concern.

Range anxiety and its implications

The UK’s plans for a petrol and diesel vehicle ban by 2030 is a clear reflection of just how much of a reality EVs now are – and will indeed continue to be. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is comfortable with the idea of owning and driving one, of course.

Range anxiety, simply the fear that an EV’s battery won’t hold enough charge for the required amount of driving, is a smoking gun for many people who feel more comfortable with using the tried-and-true method of filling their tank. This is a natural concern that comes with witnessing the transition to a relatively novel vehicle technology, but it may also simply be the product of just how many people are yet to pick up on the promising research and development (R&D) that is going into vehicle energy storage systems.

The next sections cover some chief reasons why EV range anxiety may well become a thing of the past as battery R&D improves.

Data-driven, connected batteries

Perhaps a typical reason why people don’t always trust EV batteries is the very fact that we see the problem of battery limitations every day: just think about how quickly your smartphone’s charge disappears throughout the day. But now think about how efficient it was back when you first bought your phone. This is a result of ‘capacity fade’, wherein the battery’s unavoidable chemical reactions take place inside the battery during runtime, effectively reducing the efficiency of the device over time. This is a chief reason why the battery health deteriorates with prolonged use.

Again, range anxiety may be a product of users not knowing why – or even noticing that – this energy degradation process is taking place over time. For EVs, the solution may be to have the electric vehicle itself oversee the process of battery degradation, along with other battery health and efficiency pitfalls. The chipmaker NXP is an example of a manufacturer that is using what it calls ‘connected batteries’ and a battery management system (BMS) to gather data, which the technology then sends to the cloud to be evaluated with artificial intelligence.

By applying fault diagnosis, thermal management, charge/discharge control and balanced management, such a cloud and AI-based BMS can ensure battery safety, therefore extending useful life. The technology effectively allows users to ascertain when the energy storage systems need to be replaced – but perhaps most importantly, moved onto their ‘second life’. The concept of an EV battery having a second life (in this case, a secondary use in an application after that battery is no longer optimal for electric vehicle usage) is a crucial element in combating range anxiety.

Solutions such as this not only manage drivers’ expectations (rather than leave them with a feeling of uncertainty about their battery capacity) but also improve consumers’ attitudes to the concept of EVs being a sustainable alternative to internal combustion engine-based vehicles. After all, using batteries in second life applications has both environmental and economic benefits, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lower costs for first life battery customers.

EV battery swapping

While data-driven, software-defined energy storage systems (ESS) are vital to helping manage EV drivers’ range anxiety, there is still the other side of the coin: how viable the charging of those storage systems will be.

Although the question of EV charging infrastructure is being addressed by an ever-increasing implementation of battery charging points, the fact remains that it can take 30 minutes – often at the very least – to charge an electric car. This, on top of the fact that people already have concerns about how far they can travel before they have to charge their car, is yet another element of range anxiety.

The answer may well be to not have to charge your EV at all: consider companies like NIO that offer stations that take drivers’ EVs batteries out of their car and then replace the removed battery with a fully-charged one. Concerns about how viable it is to just switch out the very battery of an EV are inevitable, but this nevertheless draws further on the said concept of a battery having a second life: solar and wind farms are just two examples of the energy storage potential of no-longer-EV-friendly Lithium-ion batteries.

Range anxiety is inevitable – but manageable

Ultimately, it is an unavoidable truth that battery-powered electric vehicles will be met with range anxiety from their future drivers. On top of the capacity fade – and of course general drainage – of Li-ion batteries, many EV users will inevitably question how easy it will be to even access an EV charging point when they’re on the road. In spite of all of this, the reliance on electric vehicles is here to stay, and will ultimately be mandatory in the UK and other countries.

EV manufacturers can manage such a level of range anxiety by emphasising and improving their vehicles’ ability to communicate battery deficiencies, as well as the R&D into the ever-improving infrastructure that comes from an increase in charging points and battery-swapping stations.

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