Recent electric vehicle (EV) fire incidents have shocked the Indian ecosystem and hampered the widespread adoption of these vehicles. Before March of this year, there was a substantial increase in demand for electric vehicles and rapid advances in innovation and technology. Improvements in battery technology, through increased efficiency and range, have made electric vehicles more accessible to the general public, as the sector is currently dominated by two-wheelers and three-wheelers in India. According to Mordor Intelligence, the Indian electric vehicle market was valued at $1.4 trillion in 2021and it should reach $15.4 trillion by 2027recording a CAGR of 47.09% over the forecast period (2022-2027). Since March, the challenge of electric vehicles has shifted from affordability, charging and anxiety to safety. Security has been of paramount importance and a The VE catches fire led to disastrous and even fatal consequences.
The question is, why is this happening?
A report from the Center for Explosives and Environmental Safety at the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) points it to batteries in electric vehicles. Highlighted issues include poor quality cells, lack of fuse, thermal management issues and battery management system (BMS).
The problems highlighted cause the batteries to experience “Thermal runaway” problem, leading to the fires. This phenomenon occurs when an increase in temperature alters the conditions in a way that causes a further increase in temperature, often leading to a destructive outcome. The issue highlighted by the DRDO report are all potential causes of thermal runaway. Let’s explain why.
The local atmospheric temperature directly affects the operating temperature of the battery. For efficient performance, the battery operating temperature should be around 20-35°C. To keep the battery at this temperature, electric vehicles need a battery thermal management system (BTMS). Now with rising temperatures in our cities, BTMS are challenged and maybe due to poor thermal management system of EV batteries, thermal runaway is caused.
Another cause of thermal runaway may be due to fast battery charging. With the evolution of battery technology, charging technology is also advancing. Although fast charging can greatly improve the comfort of electric vehicles, it increases the risks associated with batteries. Rapidly charging an electric vehicle can overheat the battery system enough to melt electrical wires and cause short circuits, with explosive consequences, as seen by several charging related incidents.
While hot weather conditions and inadequate battery thermal management systems can negatively impact performance and shorten battery life, they alone cannot cause thermal runaway. As mentioned in the DRDO report, an ineffective or even missing fuse as a failsafe mechanism is a missing component causing thermal runaway.
The causes of thermal runaway highlighted above could be due to either ineffective design or not enough testing by EV manufacturers. But manufacturers can’t spend more time on increased testing due to time-to-market constraints.
What is the solution ?
As mentioned, the design and test phase are very important phases in the manufacture of any product. Since the era of Industry 4.0, all design and testing has gone digital and performed on powerful computers at scale through what is known as Engineering simulations (hereinafter referred to as Simulations). Simulations can be of different types, some of which are thermal (study of the effect of heat and temperature on the object), structural (study of the effect of resistance, stress and failure of object), fluids (study of the effect of flow in and around an object), and electrochemical (study of the effect of chemistry on electricity). Thermal runaway is a complex engineering problem, involving all types of simulations mentioned above. With the right simulation tools, simulations can mimic all possible physical conditions, temperature rise, fast charging or fuse placement and find problem areas. After identification, it can also help to test different solutions and thus avoid thermal runaway.
The question then becomes why do we see the news at all?
BiThe biggest problem electric vehicle manufacturers face when running many simulations is time. To run a series of simulations, it can take months to get results with minimal flaws and flaws (high precision simulations). Manufacturers can’t afford it because it dramatically reduces time to market. So, companies are opting for simulations which can provide solutions but with several minor faults and flaws (low precision simulations), leading to big accidents like electric vehicle explosions, system failures and affecting human lives. Moreover, if companies find some time to perform these simulations with minimal faults and defects (high precision simulations), the cost incurred by manufacturers is very high due to the need for supercomputers, whether on site (cost of installation and maintenance) or on the cloud (due to the high duration of computing).
The real problem is therefore the bottleneck of computer technology. This is where next-generation computing technology from quantum computers can step in and revolutionize industries like electric vehicles and battery design. This new technology is much more powerful, offering exponential capabilities to these industries.
Perspective of simulations powered by Quantum
The power of quantum computers is distinguished by its ability to perform the same simulations in much less time compared to conventional supercomputers. Therefore, this technology can significantly help electric vehicle manufacturers in their time to market.
Additionally, the ability to obtain high accuracy from simulations is essential for using them in the product development process. Since high-accuracy simulations used to be time-consuming, making them prohibitively expensive, quantum-powered simulations can now allow manufacturers to perform accurate simulations at a reasonable time, in hours instead of months. Increased accuracy will not only help companies create more efficient designs and improve the reliability of their vehicles, but will also help save something invaluable, i.e., “Lives”. Additionally, accelerating quantum computations helps reduce computing uses, lowering the overall cost, and making it affordable for EV manufacturers.
In computing, quantum computing is the revolutionary system, changing our understanding of computations and showing tremendous potential as various use cases show. Although the prospect of Quantum-powered simulations offers the advantage of being better, faster and cheaper, development is very difficult because Quantum computers operate in a totally different way.
The good news is that companies are already developing and building Quantum-powered simulation software that can address thermal runaway and BTMS optimization issues. Quantum computing is here and now!
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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