By Nick Carey
ST. PAUL, Minn. (Reuters)
In what seems to be a magic trick, Dele Fayemi runs a batch of batteries in a beaker of boiling water – a physical impossibility that should cause a short circuit
But instead of a highly-dangerous combination of water and electricity, the 3M Co engineer is testing the batteries in Novec, a non-flammable, non-conductive liquid the conglomerate has sold to cool supercomputers, and which it now aims to sell to automakers to cool batteries.
Maintaining a constant, low temperature helps electric vehicles (EVs) drive longer distances, so keeping batteries cool could help solve a key problem for automakers: a lack of range has been a major obstacle to the mass adoption of electric cars.
“As you can see, the temperature remains constant,” at 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit), Fayemi said, the boiling point of this particular batch of Novec, which 3M also wants to sell to data centers to keep servers cool.
“Automakers are trying to figure out how to get the absolute maximum out of batteries,” said Ray Eby, head of 3M’s automotive electrification program, which was created last year. “That’s right in 3M’s wheelhouse.”
Major automakers plan to roll out hundreds of new electric vehicle models over the next several years, fueled by investments that consultancy AlixPartners has estimated at up to $255 billion through 2023.
To put that in context, in 2017 all the world’s automakers and suppliers combined invested $115 billion in research and development, and had capital expenditures of $234 billion.
Much of that investment will flow to suppliers, but only if they can offer ways to cut electric vehicle manufacturing costs, which are still higher than for internal combustion cars. 3M and other automotive technology companies are looking for ways to adapt to electric vehicles existing products that enjoy economies of scale from other markets.
Along with major suppliers like BorgWarner Inc and Aptiv PLC , others like aluminum company Norsk Hydro ASA and synthetic rubber maker Trinseo SA are developing products to extend the driving ranges of electric vehicles, attacking a significant barrier to higher sales.
Suppliers hope automakers will adopt their technology early in the development process so they can sell similar products to more than one customer.
With no set approach to developing EVs, automakers are pursuing their own paths, giving suppliers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to influence what parts and even what materials to use.
“Eventually we’ll see more standardization in the high-voltage market, but it’s not there yet,” said Alan Amici, vice president of transportation solutions for TE Connectivity Ltd.
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