MTU gives insights on EV batteries operating in cold temperatures

As EV technology continues to advance, Naber said their research has to keep pace.
Updated: Mar. 1, 2023 at 6:00 PM EST
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - Researchers from Michigan Technological University’s Advanced Power Systems Research Center (APS LABS) are working to answer some of your questions about electric vehicles in Upper Michigan.

“We’re looking at how we can extend the useful life of these vehicles and how we can extend the range of vehicles when we’re using them under climates in the Upper Peninsula,” said APS LABS Director Jeffrey Naber.

The center is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and researches the overall vehicle energy needs, including propulsion, heating and cooling. It also works to improve functionality and performance and to reduce the overall energy consumption of the vehicle.

As EV technology continues to advance, Naber said their research has to keep pace.

“It’s only been about 15 years since we’ve used lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles today so it’s a relatively short history compared to the 150 years of having vehicles around,” Naber said.

Naber said EV batteries charge best at an average temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

In comparison, the National Weather Service said Houghton’s average high temperature hits 70 degrees Fahrenheit in June. It stays above 70 until September 6th.

However, the vehicles can still operate at a range of 0-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

“If it’s colder than that we need to heat the battery before we use it and if it’s hotter, we need to cool it,” Naber said.

APS-LABS Associate Director Jeremy Worm said the vehicle will use energy to either heat or cool the battery, which can offset the vehicle’s energy efficiency.

“So overall efficiency drops in terms of the energy coming out of the wall versus what actually goes into raising the battery’s state of charge,” Worm said. “The system will manage its temp to heat or cool to maintain it at these conditions but that requires energy which will be taken away from its other function-which is driving down the road.”

Naber adds that a charged battery will also lose energy faster in colder environments and the battery’s life expectancy will decline.

“If you’re operating and the battery is continuously at 32 degrees its life expectancy could decrease as much as 20%, if it’s 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it could decrease as much as 50%,” Worm said.

Worm said replacing a battery can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000.

“That is a lot of money, but the good news is you wouldn’t have to do it very often. Most manufacturers have warranties of 8 years and 100,000 miles. But beyond that, your battery should last more than 100,000 miles. It’s a big expense but very infrequent,” Worm said.

APS-LABS is also developing a hybrid-electric off-road material handler.

The handler is expected to achieve well over a 20% reduction in fuel consumption while providing additional performance and functionality to the operator.