(New York) – The sweltering heat in most parts of the country is already prompting warnings about power outages and health effects.
But there’s also another risk posed by drivers, as record temperatures increase the risk of battery failure and deterioration, according to engineers.
“Batteries are like humans, they don’t like high heat or low heat,” Anna Stefanopoulou, a professor of technology at William Clay Ford at the University of Michigan, told ABC News. “The best temperature is one at which a person feels comfortable.”
While there is little drivers can do to contain their cars’ temperatures during heat waves, Stefanopoulou and other experts who have been studying advances in automotive technology told ABC News that manufacturers are working hard to find new ways to beat the increasing heat.
Stefanopoulou said manufacturers are constantly putting their batteries to the limit during the testing phase as their cars are sold around the world. Although batteries can withstand extreme standards, she said there is only so much reliability in the laws of chemistry and engineering.
For example, if a car’s interior temperature reaches above 45 degrees Celsius, or 115 degrees Fahrenheit, the battery is subject to more wear and reduced cell life, she said. According to Stefanopoulou, driving in these conditions will also test the limits of the battery.
“High temperature conditions are a problem because they affect the range. Some batteries will be dedicated to holding AC current… and that drains the battery.”
This week, some parts of the country, including Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Phoenix, will see temperatures as high as 110 degrees, according to forecasts.
Heat is a bigger problem when it comes to electric vehicles, which depend entirely on battery power. According to experts, electric vehicle batteries and systems have measures in place to prevent them from curling under extreme temperatures.
Cory Steuben, president of Michigan-based engineering consultancy Munro & Associates, told ABC News that many electric vehicle manufacturers are using newer types of batteries with thermal management.
New batteries, such as those with cylindrical, prismatic, and pouch form factors, are designed to keep the heat inside the cell from rising too much.
“These are expensive, complex, and well-controlled machines,” Steuben, whose company has acquired, separated and analyzed parts from many electric vehicles, told ABC News.
He noted that electric vehicles also have additional technologies to keep the car cool, especially Teslas. The company’s models are equipped with a data tracking feature that monitors the battery’s temperature, ambient temperature and the temperatures of its charging stations, according to Steuben.
Steuben said the vehicle alert system has the option to tell the driver when and where to stop to recharge the vehicle to prevent overheating while they are on the road.
“Imagine if you had a 1980 Ford Bronco with a normal car battery. Nobody knows what is going on in your car and where it is going. Now we have the technology to constantly monitor the battery and make changes while driving.”
At the same time, Steuben said some manufacturers have implemented new technology to keep batteries cool. He said BMW, for example, chose to put the battery in the trunk of the car rather than the engine to reduce heat.
“It requires an expensive cable, but it’s a better climate control environment,” Steuben said of the trunk. “It’s basically the same cabin temperature.”
Other methods, he said, include cooling systems that pump liquid coolant throughout the engine to prevent it from overheating.
Stefanopoulou said the best solution for motorists is to park their car in the shade or, if possible, in a climate-controlled location — such as an indoor garage.
For electric vehicles, she recommended that owners charge the car during hot days because these chargers and batteries have safeguards to prevent overheating.
Stefanopoulou acknowledged that the method could lead to even bigger problems because it would tax power grids during an extremely hot event.
“It’s a self-reproductive problem,” she said. “The higher the temperatures, the more energy we need to cool our cars. This energy is lost and this will warm the environment.”
“That’s why it’s so important that we continue to improve battery and power grid technology,” she added.
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