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Christmas is coming. Time to get out there and buy a luxury car without your partner’s input and put that beast in the driveway with a big red bow on it. “Merry Christmas honey! It was only 30% APR, and I didn’t have to put any money down at signing!” And because you’re such a discerning and forward-thinking consumer, you’re going to get an EV. You’re hip! You’ve been reading dot.LA! And while I support you 1000%, I have to warn you, gentle reader: Be careful with that EV battery in the cold.
Sure, it’s probably not going to be freezing in Los Angeles on Christmas, but maybe you’re traveling for the holidays. Maybe the closest dealership with EVs in stock that would deliver one to an AirBnB on three days’ notice was in Tahoe! I don’t know.
My point is, EV batteries aren’t great in the cold. And today’s newsletter is about why that is, and what can be done. Let’s go.
Do EVs Really Do Worse in the Cold?
Yes, considerably. Depending on the car, the temperature, and the driving conditions, you can expect to lose somewhere between 20-50% of your range, if you’re driving in below freezing temperatures. This experiment done by Consumer Reports found that the Volkswagen ID.4 got 256 miles off a full charge in 80° F conditions, compared to just 170 miles of range at 16° F—a 34% reduction. The other EVs included in the experiment fared similarly.
Why Are EV Batteries So Bad in the Cold?
Electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries that rely on a liquid electrolyte. The electrolyte is a solution that transports the positively charged lithium ions from one end of the battery to the other. As the battery discharges while the car is driving, the flow of lithium ions drives electrons between electrodes in the opposite direction, and voila, electricity is produced.
Because the electrolyte is liquid in today’s batteries, it has a narrow temperature range for optimal performance, usually around 60-100 degrees Fahrenheit. Nearly all modern EVs have a thermal management system for their onboard batteries that keeps them operating in the optimal temperature range. The problem is, this system takes energy which has to come from the battery.
Driving in the cold also means you’re probably going to turn the heat on in the cabin, which creates the same problem. The heat has to come from somewhere. In internal combustion engine vehicles, this wasn’t a big deal because the engine operates by blowing up gasoline, which, as you may surmise, generates a lot of heat. But in an EV all that interior heat uses up battery power.
What Can Be Done About EVs Cold Weather Problem?
There’s actually not a lot of great engineering solutions to the issue of EV batteries in cold temperatures at the moment. The temperature sensitivity of lithium-ion battery chemistries is not a new problem and is inherent to the underlying physics of the setup.
The real “solution” to the problem is to stop making the electrolyte out of liquid. “Solid state” batteries have been in development for what feels like an eternity and the technology works but the challenge is building one that holds up to thousands of cycles and can be cost effective and scalable. Most experts agree that commercialization of the tech is likely at least 5 to 10 years away, but solid state pioneers have been over-promising and under-delivering for years now, so liquid electrolytes are the best we’ve got for now.
Safe to say then that solid state batteries will not be here in time for the holidays this year. So what can you do to ensure that your big holiday surprise doesn’t wind up dead on arrival?
If you’re going on a trip where you need all your range, let the battery and the interior heat up while you’re still connected to power. In addition, make sure you’re parked in a warm garage so the battery doesn’t have to do the work of heating itself up. Most importantly, understand that you’re going to lose some range and might have to stop to charge earlier than normal.
If all that fails, you may be able to capture some of your partner’s glowering rage at your irresponsible spending habits to heat the battery a bit. Good luck! - David Shultz
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Join dot.LA and other great organizations for the #LongLA holiday party on Thursday 12/15! More information and tickets available here.
What We’re Reading...
- Kevin Smith partnered with Sophie Coppola's Decentralized Films for a new initiative to fund NFT future filmmakers.
- Amazon went down for several hours today...which is exactly the excuse we needed after forgetting this year's Secret Santa. A Christmas miracle!
- Meta sent a memo that employees can no longer talk about vaccines, guns or abortions while in the office. Also: legs.