Making electric-car dreams a reality
We all want longer battery life from our smartphones, laptops or e-readers, and the same is certainly true about another mobile device: the car.
As Volvo Cars heads towards a new era in vehicle electrification after becoming the first car maker to announce all its new cars from 2019 will feature some form of electric propulsion, the company is investing more time and effort than ever in developing car batteries that charge faster and last longer.
Volvo has been working on electrification since the 1970s, yet it wasn’t until cars such as the 2012 V60 PHEV that people began to appreciate that electric cars no longer had to be expensive, unreliable or somewhat boring to drive.
Johan Sjöstedt, director of charging at Volvo Cars’ Propulsion Energy Systems, says the plug-in model allowed motorists to experience the great benefits of electrification.
“The great thing about PHEVs is that they give people a chance to adapt – they also remove range anxiety [the fear of running out of battery charge],” says Johan. “But what we also noticed was that many people who began driving plug-in hybrids tried to drive as long as possible on electric power – they even get a little obsessed by it.
“Many of them realised that, even with a small battery, they could take care of their weekly activities using electric power. Also, the driveability of an electric car with instant torque can become addictive.”
Ulrik Persson, director of traction battery development at Volvo Cars, is a driving enthusiast who has also been convinced by electrification.
“I am lucky enough to be part of changing society – most importantly, when it comes to the environment, but also performance,” says Ulrik. “The driving characteristics of a pure electric vehicle in many ways outperform traditional engines. And this comes from an old petrol head,” he laughs.
Ulrik and his team are responsible for developing the batteries that power plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars, and says while the basics are the same for batteries for each propulsion type, there are a couple of key differences.
“The main difference is the amount of discharge cycles [how frequently the batteries are depleted],” says Ulrik. “The plug-in hybrid will be discharged one or two times per day, whereas the battery for a pure electric car will only be fully discharged a few times per week.
“Another major difference is the size. The pure-electric battery is almost the size of the entire vehicle floor area, so this has to be meticulously designed to ensure we deliver Volvo Cars’ world-renowned crash performance.”
Above: Volvo Cars’ Compact Modular Architecture technical concept for a battery electric vehicle.
To also ensure optimal levels of safety, durability and performance for the batteries, Ulrik and his team carry out rigorous testing in the new Volvo Cars battery lab.
“We carry out structural and environmental testing to make sure the system will endure over time. We test the software as it is built and developed. This is called continuous integration and helps ensure the software is faultless by the time it reaches the battery and the car.”
At Volvo Cars, there are number of different departments dedicated to developing faster-charging, cost-effective batteries for plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars alike.
The development of effective charging infrastructures is also crucial to moving electric vehicles into the mainstream.
Johan Sjöstedt says the biggest change will come when a reliable and fast-charging infrastructure is in place.
“I think that before long almost all major cities will provide different ways of charging cars,” he says. “Some major cities may even forbid the use of combustion engines in their city centres altogether. We are also currently working on ways to ensure that people can conveniently recharge their cars as they travel.”
Johan will say there will be different ways of charging your electric vehicle – and how you pay for it.
This includes the currently familiar way of connecting a vehicle to a charging station, wireless (inductive) charging that involves parking the car over a base plate, or even Conductive/Inductive Road Charging that will enable drivers to charge their cars while driving or conveniently at the roadside.
Then there is V2G – Bidirectional Charging – which would allow a cluster of vehicles, for a short time, to actually put electricity back into the power grid if it had been momentarily overloaded. These vehicles would then be recharged at a time when the power grid was not in full use, such as during the night.
With electrification, the technology, innovations and even our mindset have come a long way.
“I hope that we at Volvo can show the way forward in terms of smart, safe and environmentally friendly transportation solutions,” says Johan. “If we would move close to zero emissions, I think that is the finest heritage we could leave behind us.”
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