As Other Carmakers Retrench, Volvo’s Battery Lab Plugs Away


The coronavirus pandemic continues to ship surprise waves thru each trade, and the car international is not any exception. For producers making an attempt to pivot to a extra sustainable fashion, a particularly urgent query is: Can electric cars live to tell the tale?

With overall car gross sales anticipated to drop by means of greater than 20 % this yr, it’s anyone’s wager.

Believe the headwinds EVs are dealing with. Automotive firms are chopping R&D budgets to stick alive. Oil worth declines are undermining one reason why customers may wish to use much less fuel—helped alongside by means of administrative rollbacks of gas financial system requirements. And the fee top class for hybrids and EV’s is prone to cause them to non-starters for consumers anxious about plunging inventory markets and skyrocketing unemployment.

At the same time as different carmakers grapple with the outlook for his or her electrification plans, Volvo is holding the pedal to the steel. The Swedish carmaker is arguably the legacy emblem maximum dedicated to an electrical long run and continues to claim that its whole lineup shall be both electrical or hybridized by means of 2025. Given Volvo’s rather small measurement—and missing the established momentum of the all-electric Tesla—that’s a precarious dedication.

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However no longer from Volvo’s point of view. “No, we can no longer compromise on our electrification technique,” Mårten Levenstam, the corporate’s head of technique, advised me previous this month. “Electrification is Volvo’s trail ahead and we can proceed our plans to impress our product vary.”

The corporate closing yr unveiled its first devoted EV, the forthcoming XC40 Recharge, and hybrid and plug-in choices are to be had for many fashions in its lineup. Its upscale by-product emblem Polestar is at the verge of liberating its sporty all-electric sedan.

Levenstam sees no adjustments in Volvo’s total EV technique or its timeline, together with plans for extra electrified choices. “Because of the unfold of coronavirus, we see {that a} weakening marketplace and manufacturing disruptions will have an effect on our first part effects negatively,” he says. “Then again we proceed to put money into new applied sciences and merchandise to safeguard our long-term long run.”

A seek advice from to the corporate’s R&D heart in Gothenburg, Sweden, in February, simply as coronavirus was once taking grasp, presented some perception into Volvo’s technique for rising from the disaster with a robust electrification technique. Owned since 2010 by means of Chinese language automaker Geely, Volvo has been specializing in its battery building procedure and dealing to make sure that it continues to have get right of entry to to top-shelf era in the course of the disaster and past.

Manufacturing director Martina Buchhauser has been operating with providers, together with those who supply essential battery elements, to maintain breakdowns brought about by means of the pandemic. One factor: Does Volvo want new assets to forestall production slowdowns now or within the match of long run disruptions? How simple will it’s for a modestly sized emblem to attain its elements at cheap costs? “We now have an excellent electrification technique in position, and our providers see that we take this very critically,” Buchhauser says.

However dependable sourcing of top quality battery cells is only one a part of the problem. Volvo should also proceed bettering the variety and reliability of its battery programs to be able to keep aggressive with Tesla, whose efficiency in that regard has been stellar, and with different EV makers. For that, the corporate is depending on an in-house battery lab, a sprawling number of rooms–being just about doubled in measurement–full of sealed examine chambers and bench-test stations the place engineers experiment with the mechanical and electric bits and items that include an EV’s powertrain.

On the $60 million facility, established 3 years in the past, those engineers design electrical powertrains to satisfy the corporate’s requirements for optimized efficiency, potency, and protection. The corporate purchases battery cells from such providers as South Korea’s LG Chem and others, however the actual problem is integrating the ones off-the-shelf elements into the cars’ drivetrains to verify they carry out neatly in all riding modes and prerequisites.

Creating the battery programs internally permits engineers to customise the tool for controlling the facility programs and to assemble information about their efficiency, As a result of batteries are the most costly part of an EV, the programs wish to be “as just right or higher” than the rest the corporate has used previously, says Ulrik Persson, a product supervisor specializing in electrical powertrains.

Operating in-house additionally signifies that Volvo engineers can extra simply improve the tool to fortify energy control and lengthen battery vary over the lifetime of the car. “If we ask the providers if they’ve a plan and agenda like that, the solution could be no,” Persson says as he walks across the spotless new facility, the place the examine chambers quietly rate and discharge batteries in computerized solitude.

{Photograph}: Jonas Ingman/Volvo

A large a part of the lab’s paintings is the long-term analysis of various battery chemistries and control programs, together with common efficiency traits, doable protection flaws, failure profiles, and behaviour when broken. In contrast to the lithium-ion batteries in smartphones, those in automobiles need to closing the life of the car and paintings neatly in subzero temperatures and wilderness warmth. Battery heating and cooling are essential, as are the security cells designed to offer protection to battery packs in crashes and save you them from catching hearth. Checking out is completed by means of draining and recharging in actual time, or in an sped up program that simulates as much as 15 years of use in an issue of months.

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