For generations, internal combustion engine improvements drove automotive innovation. Today, batteries are the new engine for innovative electric vehicle (EV) development. EV sales are forecast to rise dramatically as deadlines for government emission mandates approach and consumer demand increases. Some industry analysts are forecasting sales to grow 15 times by 2030.

However, this growth will not happen without an increase in the pace of scientific and engineering innovation. Accelerating research and development to deliver fast-charging and longer-range batteries is key to the future success and adoption of greener and more sustainable EVs. Companies achieving scientific and engineering breakthroughs in EV battery cell development and manufacturing will be the leaders of this new era.

Several challenges continue to confront battery development. EV battery cells remain expensive. They are high in mass and require rare materials. The driving distance between charges needs to be increased. Questions remain about long-term reusability or recyclability. All of this means that EV battery cell innovation has become automotive’s moonshot.

The Innovation Chain

Undoubtedly, EV battery innovation is a multifaceted problem. Advancements in materials, cell architecture, vehicle module and pack integration, safety, and vehicle performance must all rise to the challenge. The required expertise is not found in a single design or engineering group but is spread out across the enterprise and among supply chain partners.

To achieve breakthrough battery performance, companies and their partners must be adept at all stages between material science, cell and pack design, vehicle integration, and manufacturing. As part of this process, it is critical to optimize battery performance based on the coupled disciplines of electrochemistry, heat transfer, diffusion, convection, and structural integrity. In addition, all of the data needs to move freely between the development teams. Progress made by one team must be seen and internalized by all stakeholders. Separate research, design, and engineering methods of the past will not achieve the speed of innovation required.

Emerging technologies for unified design and modeling and simulation (MODSIM) enable collaboration between vehicle designers and battery engineers throughout the development cycle, from chemistry and materials to cell and pack design to vehicle integration and vehicle performance analysis. Realistic virtual testing with multiphysics simulation enables design and engineering teams to evaluate more material and design alternatives to achieve optimal solutions more rapidly. For example, to accurately model and simulate battery swelling requires tight integration between science and engineering disciplines and virtual tools. The multidisciplinary nature of battery development pushes unified design and MODSIM to a new level, as the battery and EV chassis become integrated as one unit in a way never possible with combustion vehicles.

Exploded view of battery module and pack design integrated into a vehicle chassis. (Image: Dassault Systèmes)

Connecting the Development Stages with a Digital Thread

Demands for improved safety, energy density, and battery lifetime require the chemistry of new materials to be explored, such as new electrolyte formulations and novel cathode and anode materials. Realistic and predictive virtual testing must tackle material modeling problems at the atomistic, molecular, cell, and module/pack level, as well as integrate the physics and chemistry models at all scales.

Full vehicle dynamic simulations, with real-time software, hardware- and driver-in-the-loop enables the evaluation of EV performance in a wide range of vehicle operating conditions. (Image: Dassault Systèmes)

As new materials and alloy compositions are developed, research must move to the level of active material modeling. With multiphysics and multiscale simulation technology, mechanical, thermal, diffusion and electrical behavior of the battery cell 3D design can be analyzed and improved. Unified design and MODSIM applications enable engineers to understand the potential forces of the materials acting on the cell geometry, as well as the performance, aging, and safety characteristics of the battery. A unique advancement in multiphysics and multiscale simulation technology enables the analysis of the coupled behavior of thermoelectrochemistry with swelling in batteries. This type of coupled simulation has the potential to help ensure battery safety, optimize performance, and improve the driving range for EVs.

On the left is a 3D Parametric model of a battery cell. Using the same model, a range of simulations can be performed to evaluate stress, thermal, electro-chemical performance, cyclic swelling, and more. The image on the right is a Finite Element Analysis of charging-induced stresses in the jellyroll of 3D Battery design. (Image: Dassault Systèmes)

The development progression continues with design and engineering of the battery module and pack configuration. During this stage, it is critical that design and engineering teams collaborate on structural integrity, safety, and thermal management. Multiphysics simulation can be used to analyze the thermoelectric performance of the module and pack, just as in the battery cell itself.

Structural analysis helps analyze the battery module for crush, drop, shock, and penetration, which can be time-consuming, wasteful, and dangerous with physical testing. Alternative designs for module and pack configurations and cooling options can be analyzed virtually to achieve the required thermal characteristics for arbitrary charge and discharge cycles in various ambient conditions. Traditional physical testing can take several months. Virtual testing with unified design and simulation technologies can significantly reduce the time to make reliable performance decisions.

Concurrently, with the virtual development of the battery, designers and engineers can collaborate on integrating the battery module and pack within the virtual twin of the full vehicle. This includes the battery management system (BMS), the “brain” of the EV battery pack. With traditional development tools and methods, performance gains created at previous stages can be stifled by the limitations of the BMS design. A collaborative, virtual design and engineering environment can help avoid these unforeseen problems by providing insights into battery system performance in the context of the full vehicle and its BMS. Full vehicle dynamic simulations, with real-time software, hardware- and driver-in-the-loop, can be performed to evaluate EV performance in a wide range of vehicle operating conditions.

Reasons to Believe

It is unprecedented for a major industry to have such a large impact on GDP growth and simultaneously be in a stage of accelerated invention and innovation. State-of-the-art design and MODSIM software are required to take on the complex multiphysics/multiscale nature of EV battery cell innovation. It is a collaborative venture, with no room for the proverbial information silos of the past.

A revolution in the automotive industry requires the democratization, or left-shifting of science, design, and simulation. Virtual design, testing, and validation can accelerate adoption. Ultimately, organizations need to adopt a digital transformation approach to drive innovation in EV cell batteries and performance. Digital transformation technology must offer, at a minimum, capabilities for collaboration (anywhere, anytime), secure data management, data analytics, 3D design, and physically accurate simulation for true predictive value.

Unified design and MODSIM capabilities must be at the heart of the digital platform’s value proposition and it must allow for the creation of virtual twins at every stage. Realistic and predictive models at each step in the process provide the basis for collaboration within downstream processes. This collaboration and accurate virtual twin approach can give designers, engineers, and executives reasons to believe they have found the best path forward.

The necessary digital platform is unified and cloud-enabled, providing teams the ability to seamlessly work together on concepts, detailed designs, simulation, manufacturing, supply chain management and even through to the marketing of their products. Stage by stage, MODSIM is an optimal solution for bringing next-generation EV cell battery packs to market. Connected, digital transformation technologies for improving battery design and performance from chemical reactions to cell and module pack designs to chassis integration, and full vehicle driving performance during the early stages of development, will be the catalyst for meeting the ambitious EV advancements required to meet the demands of consumers, governments, and the future modern society.

This article was written by Victor Oancea, Senior Director, SIMULIA Multiphysics Science, Dassault Systèmes (Waltham, MA). For more information, visit here .