Powering Hybrid/Electric Vehicles with Materials that Matter

It is estimated that 5 to 8 percent of all vehicle production will be made up of pure electric, full hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2020, but automakers today are focusing on technologies that will help these vehicles go farther at a price point that attracts the average driver.

In June, Swedish automaker Volvo firmly planted itself on the side of electric vehicles after announcing all of its new models will be electrified starting in 2019. At the same time, Tesla released pictures of its first production Model 3, priced under $40,000, offering a driving range of 200 miles per charge.

“The demand for hybrid and electric vehicles isn’t coming, it’s already here,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lou, senior vice president, BASF Battery Materials. “Every carmaker, big and small, is trying to outdo one another with vehicles that feature reduced costs, extended driving range and longer lifecycles.”

BASF offers a broad portfolio of electric mobility solutions, from the chemistry of the battery to lightweight components that limit energy usage, with a significant focus on research and development to help automakers address these challenges.

Battery materials

A fundamental way to improve the range, life and price of electric and hybrid vehicle technology is through improving the material science behind the batteries.

This has led BASF to make extensive investments in research and development, as well as offer customers a broad range of materials, establish manufacturing assets in strategic global locations and undertake proper licensing to provide customers with confidence when it comes to intellectual property.

These licenses include a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to mass produce and market nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) composite cathode materials, as well as an agreement with CAMX Power LLC for its proprietary high-nickel cathode material CAM-7.

“Meeting industry demand hinges on advanced material science”

The industry’s move to incorporate higher levels of nickel and manganese is part of a growing trend seeking to reduce and replace the more expensive and less available cobalt with chemical elements that cost less and are more abundant. While many early electric vehicles used a more even blend of cobalt and other chemical elements, battery material formulas now include 60 percent nickel and in some cases, 80 percent and higher.

BASF is also continuously working with academies, universities and partners to make long-term investments in research system solutions for all solid state batteries and protected lithium anodes.

“Meeting industry demand hinges on advanced material science,” said Michael Fetcenko, managing director, BASF Battery Materials in North America. “These cathode materials are not yet fully optimized, so BASF believes there are great opportunities for incremental and breakthrough improvements to meet these challenges and create electric and hybrid electric vehicles that stand up to the growing expectations of end users.

“And with the market expanding so rapidly, possessing a worldwide manufacturing capability and research and development footprint, along with materials expertise, are offerings BASF takes pride in.”

Performance materials

While solving the technical challenges of battery materials plays a part in electrification, so does reducing overall vehicle mass, protecting against flammability and electrical arcing and using highly engineered materials to avoid physical and chemical degradation of components.

Vehicles equipped with bigger batteries may have longer ranges, but they are also burdened with additional pounds and a greater need for heat management. Identifying these challenges, BASF continues to add new solutions to its plastics portfolio that possess properties specific to applications that enable next-generation battery technologies.

For example, casings constructed of thermoplastics can achieve up to a 30 percent mass reduction, as opposed to metal parts. One tier 1 supplier was even able to achieve up to a 51 percent weight reduction by using a grade of BASF’s Ultramid® that is 35 percent reinforced with glass fibers.

Ultramid® can also be used for cell frames because of its high-strength and temperature-resistant properties as a thermoplastic. These properties will not only add to a battery pack’s life span, but its performance. And through processing technologies, these materials can provide the level of dimensional stability, as well as strength and weight savings, needed for the end plates.

BASF continues to add new solutions to its plastics portfolio that possess properties specific to applications, enabling next-generation battery technologies.

Thermally and electrically conductive resins also enable metal reduction, improving lightweighting. BASF offers a new electrostatically dissipative grade of Ultramid® that maintains good physical and mechanical properties, as well as grades that provide increased strength, stiffness and conductive properties.

BASF’s sizeable portfolio of materials can also be used for high voltage connectors and cables, as well as charging infrastructure. It contains grades that are nonhalogenated and non-red phosphorus flame retardant, as well as the only hydrolytically stable flame retardant polybutylene terephthalate on the market today. In addition, BASF’s Ultramid Advanced N solution has excellent mechanical properties at elevated temperatures, can withstand challenging media and maintain dimensional stability in humid environments because of its low water uptake.

Another lightweight option ideal for electrification applications is Basotect®, a flexible, open-cell foam made from a thermoset polymer. Its resistance to heat and fire will not only protect specific engine components, it will also shield surrounding parts that can’t withstand prolonged high temperatures.

“Automakers looking to electrify their fleet need solutions that rely on engineering plastics to protect delicate components from high temperatures and reduce overall vehicle mass,” said Dalia Naamani-Goldman, e-mobility market segment manager, BASF Performance Materials Division North America. “And for every pound that is shed, more range is added to the battery, which is significant in a market where the ability to go farther on a single charge is an important differentiator.”

Solving for Sound

Aside from reducing or eliminating emissions, one of the biggest appeals of electric vehicles are their reputation of being quiet and offering a smoother ride.

But what many people may not realize is noise, vibrations and harshness (NVH) pose multiple challenges for engineers. Without the sound of a traditional internal combustion engine, engineers have to redefine and refine the sound, comfort and feel without hindering the drive for more efficient vehicles.

BASF is taking up this challenge with its suite of NVH solutions. By combining acoustic isolations at high frequencies with high dampening at large amplitudes, BASF can help manufacturers design optimal innovations in acoustic comfort, vehicle dynamics and safety.

One example is motor mounts made from Cellasto® microcellular polyurethane elastomers, which are highly effective at blocking and absorbing noise from much higher frequencies generated by the electromagnetic pulses and corresponding torque pulses.

Cellasto mounts for electric motor can also aid weight reduction while maintaining interior sound levels and quality. Initial tests indicate that car makers can achieve as much as 30 percent in part weight reduction.

Saving Energy, Powering HVAC

But the comfort this system provides might be short lived considering it can consume up to 40-50 percent of a battery’s range.

During the hottest or coldest days of the year, many drivers turn to their heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for comfort.To mitigate the impact the sun’s rays and lower energy usage required to cool the vehicle, BASF developed its line of cool pigments to help control cabin temperature. This line of cool paints even includes darker shades and colors that typically absorb up to 90 percent of the sun’s heat. BASF’s cool carbon black pigment reflects incident solar energy with low levels of adsorption, leading to a decrease of up to 15 to 20 degrees Celsius in surface temperature.

And while BASF’s cool pigments help OEMs keep the surface of the car cooler, their catalyst division is working to reduce the impact heating and cooling systems have on the battery. Through advanced HVAC technologies that enable greater recirculation while preventing moisture and carbon dioxide entering the cabin, BASF solutions offer a range extension in EVs of up to 10 percent.

“BASF recognizes OEMs and suppliers are developing strategies to solve the challenges associated with electrification and will continue to leverage its extensive expertise in chemistry and materials to help its customers power forward,” Lou said.