Are industry leaders and policymakers betting on batteries? Lithium-ion batteries are widely used in electric vehicles due to their environmental benefits, but excessive heat from chemical reactions can jeopardize their efficiency and safety, potentially leading to hazardous situations such as explosions. To manage this, a Battery Thermal Management System (BTMS) keeps the battery’s temperature within a safe range, using techniques like air or liquid cooling to prevent overheating.

Phase change materials, or PCMs, are being explored as a cost-effective alternative for managing the heat in lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs). Unlike traditional cooling systems that use air or liquids, PCMs can absorb and release heat without requiring much energy, making them more efficient and lower cost. PCMs work by absorbing excess heat when the battery becomes too hot and then releasing that heat when the battery’s temperature drops. This approach could help maintain the battery’s temperature at an optimal level, improving its performance and longevity.

PCMs are proving even more promising in EVs since fast charging performance can deteriorate at cold temperatures. Since PCMs can release the heat stored during periods of high temperature, this can combat the observed drop in performance of fast charging in cold temperatures. This is especially helpful for communities in colder climates since the improved efficiency of charging puts less strain on electric grids and can potentially reduce emissions emitted through electricity generation.

Building on current battery thermal management systems, further enhancements could include integrating smart sensors to control the heat distribution better and optimize the use of phase change materials. Additionally, incorporating renewable energy sources to power internal heating elements could increase sustainability and reduce overall energy consumption. Finally, improving the system’s modularity could allow for easier upgrades and maintenance, ensuring that battery performance can be maintained at optimal levels across various vehicle models and conditions.

Policy supported research either through grants or pilot programs could prove instrumental in advancing this technology. Further, cross-industry collaboration between the energy and transportation sector could help facilitate learnings that are applicable to industrial-scale power storage all the way down to micro storage. The exact improvements that could be made depend on how transparent the dialogue is and what scientific or technical considerations are shared.

In conclusion, integrating phase change materials into electric vehicle battery systems may represent a groundbreaking advancement in thermal management, promising enhanced performance and longevity even under challenging conditions. This technology improves the efficiency of fast charging in colder climates and reduces the environmental impact by lessening the strain on electric grids. As industry researchers continue to innovate more sustainable solutions, the future of electric vehicles may be increasingly bright, promising a cleaner, more efficient transportation landscape.

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Written by Mustafa Haque, Public Policy Intern

The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.