Electric cars are getting all the attention in the transportation industry.
This comes as no surprise. There’s been a race by auto manufacturers to bring electric cars and trucks to the masses in recent years. It’s only become more competitive as consumers are now more environmentally conscious and governments are taking legislative steps to reduce carbon emissions.
Cars and trucks aren’t the only modes of transportation expected to convert from fossil fuels to a greener source. Name a type of vehicle, and chances are there’s already an electric-powered alternative.
With new technology comes more new technology.
As the electric vehicle market grows, the electric vehicle sensor market will, too. The reason is simple: Just like vehicles with an internal combustion engine, EVs need high-performing and accurate sensor technology to ensure performance and safety.
Electric Vehicle Industry Growth Beyond the Sedan & Pickup
Though electric cars and electric trucks are front and center in the “electrification revolution,” they’re only two components of the overall sea change in transportation.
Almost every vehicle type is slated for electrification. Many financial reports and electric vehicle industry trends show this shift is well underway.
Alongside cars and pickups, other electrified vehicles you’ll see more of include:
- Buses: From those transporting school children to those supporting urban commutes, fully electric bus fleets are on the horizon. Billions of dollars are being eyed by federal lawmakers to fund the conversion of transportation systems away from fossil fuels.
- Semis: One of the largest vehicles on the road presents one of the most impactful paths to reducing emissions. The electric semi market is expected to more than double by 2026.
- ATV & Utility Vehicles: Among the smallest vehicles slated for electrification the ATV and utility vehicle market is projected to grow from 2020’s $468 million to $4.3 billion by 2030.
- Aircraft: The skies are poised to be greener with the conversion to electric-powered airplanes. Many major airlines are planning to follow the automotive industry by eliminating fossil-fuel use from their fleets.
- Boats & Ships: Already valued at $5 billion, the electric boat and ship market is slated to reach $10 billion by 2026.
Electric Vehicle Sensors: The Key to Continued Industry Growth
As the global fleet of vehicles transitions away from fossil fuels and into electricity, the role of sensor technology -- especially in battery management -- will become critical.
Just like the fueling system of an internal combustion engine, an EV’s battery systems need constant monitoring to ensure optimal performance and safety.
Electric vehicle sensors for batteries are more than an updated version of a gas gauge. They’re sophisticated tools for measuring key performance elements, such as:
- Thermal management
- Energy management
- Battery health
- Humidity control
One of the most detrimental environments for an EV’s battery is excessive heat. If left uncontrolled, thermal runaway may occur, an event during which a battery cell degrades and releases flammable gasses. Without intervention, the battery thermal event can even trigger a chain reaction through the entire battery pack, with more cells undergoing thermal runaway until the pack is damaged beyond recovery.
In addition, batteries, motors, and inverters have a temperature window where the performance is high, but outside that window, performance degrades. For batteries, that optimal range is approximately 15C to 35C. At colder temperatures, the internal kinetics of the cell drive lower charge and discharge rates, reducing available pack power, and at higher temperatures, battery cells can degrade quickly, which requires that the system be controlled by heat exchangers that can both extract heat from the cells or add heat as necessary, and all require accurate temperature sensor feedback.
Next to overheating, humidity is an EV battery design’s worst enemy. With humidity comes condensation.
In an EV battery pack, condensation means an increased risk for a short circuit. An electrical short in an EV is enough to trigger thermal runaway or other malfunctions. Monitoring the battery pack for condensation buildup over long life spans has become more of a concern, as the water from humidity in the form of condensate and the potential for small leaks in the packs cooling system can contribute to corrosion and electrical shorts, which can not only damage the pack, but can hydrolyze and form dangerous levels of hydrogen gas.
To run an electric vehicle of any size or type requires a lot of energy. Thus, monitoring its energy intake during charging and consumption during use is key to consistent performance.
Fast charging, one of the major requirements consumers are looking for in EVs, requires constant monitoring, as in rare instances, quickly charging a lithium-ion battery can cause overheating. Sensors designed to manage a variety of systems -- from a vehicle’s HVAC to even a regenerative braking system -- are key to helping the owner get the most from their vehicle without worry. A typical example includes monitoring the temperature of the vehicle’s charging connections. Higher than expected temperatures in the high voltage connections indicate that a charging handle or plug is worn out and requires replacement.
Both short- and long-term EV battery performance are perceived barriers to many potential adopters -- how can they trust a vehicle won’t run out of juice and leave them stranded?
Understanding an EV’s overall battery health serves three purposes for the vehicle owner:
- Knowing how far the vehicle can travel on its current charge
- Evaluating its usefulness over the life of the vehicle
- Identifying small performance issues before they become bigger
Sensors play a key role in providing accurate measurement of State of Charge (how much farther you can travel) and State of Health (how much life is left in the battery pack).
Can Sensors Keep up With Electric Vehicle Industry Trends?
With the electric vehicle industry in the beginning stages of unprecedented growth, sensor technology is set to follow suit.
In part, the long-term future of electrified transportation depends on the availability of dependable and accurate sensors. While there’s still some consumer reluctance to accept the latest evolution in transportation, today’s electric vehicle sensors can ensure a car, bus, or even plane ride is a much quieter and higher quality experience than today’s thermal engine technology.
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