How simulation software will make EVs greener and leaner

3 min read

The race between automakers to electrify cars at large scale is on a positive, progressive journey - from small cars to SUVs and sports.

Even racing cars, which have some of the most challenging performance requirements, can now have a powerful electric motor, like the Porsche 99X Electric. But the lure of lower CO2 on the road is severely dented by the greenhouse gas emissions and carbon intensity accrued from manufacturers designing, trialling, and building batteries to power our next-generation EVs. 

The answer lies in the use of powerful and comprehensive engineering simulation software which enables engineers to explore and predict how batteries, components and entire systems will work (or fail) in the real world, in real-time, on the road.

The environmental burden of battery development

Traditionally, physical prototype batteries are continually re-engineered, tested and optimized. This approach is time consuming, expensive and has a deep environmental impact. In their quest to deliver more sustainable vehicles, carmakers are evaluating

every design detail and design decision in the launch of new models – from the powertrain system to the vehicle exterior and up to the cabin interior with a modern infotainment system. They are looking for opportunities to minutely refine and redesign each and every vehicle component, to reduce weight, cut energy consumption and reduce the carbon footprint. 

As the production and adoption of EVs ramp up, there is a significant looming challenge that remains, the battery. The vast majority of EVs today use Li-Ion batteries. Some of the ongoing focus areas of improving battery technology centre around extending

the vehicle driving range, faster battery charging, extending battery life, decreasing battery weight, and reducing the reliance on rare earth minerals. And then, there is also the fact that fewer than 5% of Li-Ion batteries are currently recycled. 

Reengineering cells in real-time

Batteries can behave oddly – often passing every basic test until they are asked to perform at their peak potential or respond to unusual demands. Simulation technology is all about the accurate prediction of performance under every possible true driving

scenario. Based on the fundamental principles of scientific modelling grounded in physics, mathematics, and computer science, engineering simulation gives engineers the power to understand how batteries will behave in millions of real-world scenarios, while

reducing the need for repeated physical testing which is carbon-intensive and costly. Engineering Simulation offers previously unimaginable experimentation without the constraints of micro-manufacturing, testing and waste.

The building blocks of EV battery technology is surprisingly simple even in the most hi-tech car. Basic cells of electrodes and electrolytes are contained in a case to guard them against shock, vibration, and heat. These modules are combined with protection and control systems to form a battery pack, which is then installed in the vehicle. While battery technology is steadily advancing, one could argue that this evolution is not happening at the same pace as the enhancement of driver aids and infotainment.

Simulation allows engineers, designers, and scientists to experiment with novel concepts without the need for physical build, avoiding potentially hazardous materials and reducing the environmental impact. Leveraging simulation, it is possible not only to evaluate a myriad of design permutations, the choice of different materials, packaging concepts, etc. at a much faster rate than testing, but also to gain a better and more detailed understanding of the physics fundamentals at play. Engineering simulation can significantly accelerate the pace of technology innovation.

The power to test in a virtual world

In a milestone breakthrough, engineers are now able to harness truly predictive simulation to test and validate batteries, components, and entire end-to-end systems in a virtual world. It reduces cost, cuts time to market, and eliminates the heavy front-loaded environmental liability of emissions from continuous physical prototyping to build better batteries.

Automakers see this next generation simulation as a superpower tool to accelerate innovation and secure true sustainability. It is helping their engineers to innovate and develop new technologies much faster, and at lower price points. An important factor, since affordability is critical for a large-scale adoption of new and more sustainable technology. 

Predicting performance from systems not silos

The most significant benefit vehicle manufacturers gain from engineering simulation comes from being able to assess and optimize whole systems, not just silo testing components in isolation. Systems integration means engineers can model how a whole car will behave in different scenarios, weather and driving conditions – long before it’s built. 

Accelerating product design and coming early to market with innovative battery technology will translate into a true brand advantage. A systems approach will also pay longer-term operational dividends with higher reliability and lower warranty costs as the market and EVs mature.

Greener discovery and development

By integrating systems simulation into the design cycle, designers reduce iteration loops which saves time and money – ultimately delivering a better driving experience and a truly sustainable car. These factors will underpin the reputation of electric cars as a better form of transport, not simply our best alternative route to future mobility.

Better batteries mean longer range, faster and less frequent charging, longer battery life, as well as better recyclability. Accurate modelling of batteries is set to make EVs more affordable and help them live up to the promise of genuinely greener motoring – from design and development to driving.

Author details: Pepi Maksimovic, Director, Application engineering at Ansys