Industry Article

EV Designers’ Toolbox: Virtual Battery Prototyping

One of automakers' biggest challenges in the shift toward electrification is the complex and resource-intensive process of optimizing battery systems for new EV models.  

The automotive industry is making a monumental shift toward electrification, with major players worldwide pouring billions into the development of electric vehicles (EVs). However, one of automakers' biggest challenges is the complex and resource-intensive process of optimizing battery systems for new EV models.  

Traditionally, optimizing EV battery systems has relied heavily on physical prototyping and testing, an approach that has proved costly and time-consuming—a significant bottleneck for innovation. Over the past few decades, simulation has emerged as a strong tool in the automotive industry, offering cost-effective alternatives to physical prototyping, particularly in areas like chassis design. But, to date, when it comes to battery pack design, the value of simulation has yet to reach its full potential in the industry.

 

Electric vehicle batteries

Electric vehicle batteries. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock 

 

Challenges Facing Battery Simulation

The crux of the issue lies in the immense challenge of obtaining the necessary data to enable accurate battery simulation. Evaluating battery lifetime, a critical metric for EV design requires extensive testing across a wide range of real-world scenarios. Automakers often need to test hundreds of individual battery cells in conditions from extreme cold and fast charging to high-performance usage for industries like motorsports. Comprehensive testing is essential for making informed decisions about cell selection and overall vehicle design, but the associated costs and timelines can present a major hurdle.

 

A 2022 Voltaiq report shows the top bottlenecks in battery workflow.

A 2022 Voltaiq report shows the top bottlenecks in battery workflow. Image used courtesy of About:Energy

 

The costs associated with building and operating battery testing facilities for the automotive industry are staggering. General Motors' Battery Innovation Lab is estimated to cost $40 million, while Volkswagen and Ford have invested $22 million and $185 million in their battery labs. Beyond the upfront capital expenditure, the ongoing operational costs can also be considerable, with automakers needing to invest millions annually just to run the specialized equipment and maintain the necessary staffing levels. The scale of these investments underscores the immense challenges facing automakers as they race to develop reliable and efficient battery technologies for future electric vehicles.

Lucid Motors revealed it had invested years and £10 million in testing to gather the data needed for simulation in its battery pack programs alone. For smaller players, especially startups, this level of investment is simply out of reach—creating a significant obstacle to leveraging simulation in critical areas like battery management, thermal design, and warranty planning.

 

Graph showing the differences in battery aging under different conditions

Graph showing the differences in battery aging under different conditions. Image used courtesy of About:Energy

 

Battery prototyping tools are emerging as a game-changing solution. By providing advanced modeling and data analytics capabilities, these digital tools unlock major time and cost savings while accelerating the development of higher-quality, more competitive battery-powered products.

 

Virtual Battery Prototyping Tools

The key lies in virtual prototyping's ability to integrate simulated models and real-world data from physical cell testing. This gives engineering teams unprecedented visibility into critical design choices across areas like cell selection, thermal management, and state-of-charge estimation. Rather than relying solely on costly and time-consuming physical testing, companies can use these virtual tools to quickly evaluate a wide range of battery chemistries, pack configurations, and thermal strategies, allowing them to make more informed decisions early in the design process.

 

Illustration of a physical battery transformed into a digital model.

Illustration of a physical battery transformed into a digital model. Image used courtesy of About:Energy

 

One of the most significant benefits of virtual battery prototyping is its ability to evaluate the impact of different designs on an EV's overall performance and range. Factors like lifetime and charging times are crucial metrics. Virtual tools can help companies understand these factors much more quickly, enabling them to optimize their designs and accelerate the development cycle.

Consider a scenario where a major automaker is developing a new EV model. By leveraging virtual battery prototyping, the engineering team can quickly assess the effects of various cell chemistries, pack configurations, and thermal management strategies on the vehicle's range, efficiency, and battery longevity. This allows them to make informed decisions upfront, potentially saving months of physical testing and costly design iterations.

The V-Model, a common project management framework in the automotive industry, highlights the importance of the concept phase in verifying technical and economic targets and the overall timeline. In this crucial early stage, battery simulation can be used to drastically reduce the timelines for selecting and designing the optimal battery solutions.

 

The V development cycle.

The V development cycle. Image used courtesy of About:Energy

 

The benefits of virtual prototyping extend beyond just reducing development timelines. These tools can also help companies make better-informed decisions around warranty design, preventative maintenance, and end-of-life strategies for their battery-powered products. By providing more accurate predictions of performance and lifetime, virtual prototyping can improve customer satisfaction, reduce warranty costs, and create a more sustainable lifecycle for EVs and other battery-powered applications.

Furthermore, as the volume of battery data continues to grow, the predictive capabilities of these virtual tools will only become more powerful. The inherent value of data is that the more we have, the more accurately we can model and predict outcomes. This feedback loop between real-world data and virtual simulations will be a key driver of battery innovation in the future.

 

Schematic of a battery pack

Schematic of a battery pack. Image used courtesy of About:Energy

 

The Future of Virtual Battery Prototyping

The industry faces immense challenges in its electrification transition, but virtual battery prototyping is emerging as a transformative solution. By providing advanced modeling and data analytics capabilities, these digital tools are unlocking major time and cost savings while accelerating the development of higher-quality, more competitive battery-powered products. As the volume of battery data continues to grow, the predictive power of virtual prototyping will only become more profound, driving innovation and making the transition to an electric future smoother, faster, and more accessible for all.