Quantum computing can solve EVs safety woes





Recent incidents of electric vehicle (EV) catching fire has shocked the Indian ecosystem and hindered the broad adoption of these vehicles. Before March of this year, there has been a substantial rise in the demand for electric vehicles and rapid advances in innovation and technology. Improvements in the battery technology, through increased efficiency and range, have made the EVs more accessible to the mass public, as the sector is currently dominated by two-wheelers and three-wheelers in India. According to Mordor Intelligence, India’s electric vehicle market was valued at $1.4 trillion in 2021, and it is expected to reach $15.4 trillion by 2027, recording a CAGR of 47.09% over the forecast period (2022-2027). Since March, the challenge in EV has shifted from affordability, charging, and range anxiety to safety. Safety has been of prime importance and an EV catching fire has led to dire consequences and even fatal.

The question is, why is this happening?

A report by the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Centre for Fire Explosive and Environment Safety points it to the EV batteries. The issues highlighted includes poor quality cells, lack of fuse, issues with thermal management, and battery management system (BMS).

The highlighted issues cause the batteries to experience “Thermal Runaway” problem, leading to the fires. This phenomenon occurs when an increase in temperature changes the conditions in a manner that causes further increase in temperature, often leading to a destructive result. The issue highlighted by the DRDO report are all potential causes of thermal runaway. Let’s explain why.

Local atmospheric temperature directly affects the operating temperature of battery. For efficient performance, battery’s operating temperature should be around 20°-35° C. To keep the battery at this temperature, EVs need battery thermal management system (BTMS). Now, with rising temperatures in our cities, the BTMS are being challenged and possibly due to the poor thermal management system of EV batteries, thermal runaway is being caused. 

Another cause for the thermal runaway, is possibly due to the rapid battery charging. With the evolution of battery technology, charging technology is also advancing. While the fast charging can greatly improve the convenience of EVs, it increases the risks related to batteries. Fast charging an EV can overheat the battery system, enough to melt the electrical wires and cause short circuits, leading to explosive consequences, as already seen by several charging-related incidents.

While hot weather conditions and inadequate thermal management systems of the battery can negatively impact performance and shorten life, they alone cannot cause thermal runaway. As mentioned by DRDO report, inefficient, or even absence of, fuse as a fail-safe mechanism is a missing component causing thermal runaway. 

The causes of thermal runaway highlighted above could be due to either inefficient design or not enough testing by EV manufacturers. But the manufacturers cannot spend more time on increased testing due to time-to-market constraints.

 What’s the solution?

As stated, design and testing phase are very important phases of any product manufacturing. Since the era of industry 4.0, all design and testing have moved digitally and carried out on large-scale powerful computers through what is called Engineering Simulations (referred to as Simulations hereafter). Simulations can be of various types some of which are thermal (studying the effect of heat and temperature on object), structural (studying effect of object’s strength, stress, and failure), fluid (studying effect of flow in and around an object), and electrochemical (studying effect of chemistry on electricity). Thermal runaway is a complex engineering problem, entailing all the types of simulations mentioned above. With the right simulation tools, simulations allow to mimic every possible physical condition, rising temperature, fast charging, or fuse placement and find areas of problem. After identifying, it can also aid in testing different solutions and hence avoid thermal runaway all together. 

The question then becomes why are we seeing the news at all?

Biggest issue EV manufactures have with performing numerous simulations is the duration of time. To run a series of simulations, it can take months to obtain results with minimal flaws and defects (high accuracy simulations). Manufacturers cannot afford this as it greatly hampers the time to market. Thus, companies opt for simulations that can provide solutions but with several minor flaws and defects (low accuracy simulations) to them, leading to large mishaps like EV explosions, system failures, and affecting human lives. In addition, if the companies do find some time to perform these simulations with minimum flaws and defects (high accuracy simulations), the cost that manufacturers incur is very high due to the need for supercomputers whether on-premises (setup and maintenance cost) or on cloud (due high duration time of the computing).

So the real issue is the computing technology bottleneck. This is where the next-generation computing technology of Quantum computers can step in and revolutionize the industries like EV and Battery Design. This new technology is much more powerful, enabling exponential abilities to these industries.

Prospect of Quantum-powered simulations 

The power Quantum computers is showcased by its ability to perform the same simulations in much less time compared to classical supercomputers. Hence, this technology can significantly help EV manufacturers in their time to market. 

Moreover, the ability to obtain high accuracy from simulations is vital in using them in the product development process. Since high accuracy simulations took lot of time before, making them prohibitive, quantum-powered simulations can now enable the manufacturers to perform accurate simulations at reasonable time, in hours instead of months. Added accuracy will not only help companies create more efficient designs and improve the reliability of their vehicles, but also help in saving something invaluable, i.e., “Lives”. In addition, the speedup from Quantum computations enables lower computing usages, decreasing the overall cost and making it affordable for EV manufacturers.

What’s next?

In the computing sphere, Quantum Computing is the revolutionizing system, changing our understanding of computations and shows tremendous potential as shown by various use cases. While the prospect of Quantum-powered simulations offers the advantage of Better, Faster, and Cheaper, the development is very challenging as the Quantum computers work in entirely different ways.   

Good news is that companies are already developing & building Quantum-powered simulation software, which can solve problems of thermal runaway and optimization of BTMS. Quantum Computing is here and now!



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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