How the racing world could help us reach electric car perfection
In the breakneck race to perfect the electric car, creating a new kind of battery is vital. But, with current technology potentially trashing your battery with just a few fast charges, the swish of the chequered flag and the pop of the champagne cork are still a few laps away.
By Katy Brown
Romain de La Rochefordiere, business development director for Beltoise eTechnology, and Arnaud Desrentes, CEO of battery technology company e-Mersiv, reveal the secret to winning the race to electric car perfection may be… well, racing.
There’s something electric about racing
“A moving laboratory” is how Romain describes his company’s shiny new all-electric racing car, the BT01.
Beltoise eTechnology is owned by Julian Beltoise, son of French F1 driver Jean-Pierre Beltoise, so they know a thing or two about racing cars.
More than 60% of the innovations on everyday cars come from racing.
Their aim over the next five years is to use the BT01 to grab vast amounts of data that will help propel the development of electric car technology into top gear. Romain says “It’s important to understand that racing has always been a field of experimentation. More than 60% of the innovations on everyday cars come from racing”.
That’s why electric racing cars like the BT01 could be paramount in developing mass market electric vehicles (or EVs).
Collecting data for the masses
Data is vital for any industry, and it’s no different for automotive. People get cheaper smartphones because their data is used and sold, and this could happen in the EV car market.
With the BT01, Beltoise plans to sell the cars, rent them to racing companies to be driven by professional drivers, and use them for driving schools where they’ll be driven by ordinary people. And with the BTO1 sold around the world, it’ll face everything from bitter cold to arid dust. So the vehicles and their 50+ sensors will consume and store huge gulps of data.
Arnaud says: “Thanks to the BT01 we’ll have real-life data, and this will help us improve very quickly, which will be very helpful for the mass market product development.”
Although anything battery related is exclusively for Arnaud and e-Mersiv, selling data about other components is pivotal for Beltoise. For example, they’ll share tyre-related data with Michelin.
According to Arnaud, car manufacturers already put vast time, energy, and money into collecting data to know their customers better and to give them the services they want. This data will be just as crucial for the mass market of EVs.
Romain adds: “The data we collect means the BT01 will act as an important laboratory for all car manufacturers”.
Planning years in advance
To influence the next generation of EVs, Beltoise and e-Mersiv are racing against the clock. In the automotive industry car development takes around 4-5 years.
Arnaud says: “It's long and complex and the investments are in the billions, so if you want to jump into the next generation [of car development] when you’re a company like us, you need to provide real test data.
“[Car developers] will be ready in 4 or 5 years for these new batteries that will accept fast charging. So, we need, as soon as possible, to provide them with real field test data to prove that they take no risk in using our technology”.
Building a battery that strikes the perfect balance
According to Arnaud, the battery is the main battleground in the EV ’war‘. He comments: “The battery is the key differentiation product in the coming years”. Charging time, range, and lifespan are three thorny battery-related problems that need conquering.
Perfecting the fast charge
“Currently, the average battery charging time is 45mins-to-1 hour. e-Mersiv plans trample all over that with a battery that charges in under 10,” says Arnaud.
One of the burning issues to defeat is the battery’s ‘thermal management’. Arnaud explains: “To reduce the charging time by three you increase the heat that must be removed from the battery by 10.
“If you repeat the process of fast charging several times, you’ll damage the battery quickly. With existing technology that’s in the street today, I would say you have 2-3 maximum fast charges before you destroy the battery”.
Making the battery last
Thermal management also plays an essential part in determining a battery’s lifespan, which is why most currently only survive 8-10 years.
Arnaud explains: “There’s another parameter, which is a maximum cell temperature. You need to, depending on the cell electrochemistry, be under 45-50 degrees. As soon as you exceed this by 1 degree you lose 2-3% of the battery lifespan”.
It’s these kinds of obstacles that the BT01, or rather the data collected from it, will help to blast through.
The data could make all the difference
Arnaud says “Racing and racing drivers help rev up car innovation, because they push their vehicles to the max.
“Because the technical requirements for their vehicles are so high, not any single existing technology today, like the thermal management technology for batteries, can pass their requirements. That’s why they need innovation. And that's why we need them. It’s mutually beneficial”.
“We increase our general skills and know-how and that means our products will be far better with racing than without”.
So, the real winners of this EV race will be the consumers. The people who want to go electric who will benefit from the innovations created by the fierce jostling for poll position.