It seems this conundrum doesn’t get a lot of press, but it is a major design hurdle for electric and fuel cell vehicle manufacturers.
As part of research and development, most prototype cars get tested to see how they handle being in extremely cold weather. Once they discover a design’s limitations, adjustments or new technology have to be implemented.
It’s been interesting to see the different ways designers respond to the problem and that remains the case for Volvo’s C30 Electric.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that batteries don’t like the cold. A battery uses a chemical process to deliver electric current and, when a battery gets cold, that chemical process gets slowed down big time. When the current slows down, so does the car.
The other, less commonly considered issue is that something has to warm up the inside of that car and, in the case of many electric vehicles, that something is the battery. Using the battery for generating heat decreases the vehicle’s range and EVs are already struggling to meet consumer demand for a high range of distance per charge.
Volvo, as a car company based in Northern Sweden, is no stranger to cold weather. As such, they seem to have a unique view of the problem and their solution is equally unique. They’ve announced their decision to equip the C30 with three different climate systems.
One cools or warms the battery pack whenever needed, another cools the electric motor and electronics and the third supplies the passenger cabin with heating and cooling.
To warm the passenger cabin, Volvo is building a bio-ethanol heater into the car. The heater’s tank can hold 14.5 litres (about 3.8 gallons) of bio-ethanol and is the default heating system, though drivers can choose to use the battery system to generate heat on shorter trips.