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Electric vehicle batteries falling short during frigid temperatures

Cold weather slows the chemical and physical reactions that make lithium-ion batteries work, says a professor at Wayne State University.
Electric vehicle batteries falling short during frigid temperatures
Posted at 6:56 AM, Jan 18, 2024

From longer charging times to decreased driving range, electric vehicle owners are feeling the impact of freezing temperatures.

"I'm not going to lie, like, every day I have to charge," said Adeel Jamal, EV owner.

A resident of Northville, Michigan, Jamal travels about an hour daily to Wayne State University for school and to Dearborn for work, which is also about an hour from home. But in the last few days, Jamal has been paying more attention to the mileage.

"Especially in the cold, because I'm only getting a 140-mile range. I usually get 240," said Jamal.

During the frigid temperatures, the 20-year-old has been spending more time at a charging station as it has also taken longer to power up.

"I'm having my meal in my car, working on my laptop ... all while my car charges," he said.

According to a study by Recurrent Auto, all cars lose efficiency in cold weather. However, it's EV drivers who feel the pinch. Depending on the model, on average, an EV's range drops to around 40% to 70% of its normal range in freezing conditions, primarily due to low battery efficiency and a high demand for the vehicle's climate control.

A professor at Wayne State University, Dr. Caisheng Wang, says cold weather slows the chemical and physical reactions that make lithium-ion batteries work.

"Those lithium-ion batteries, there are electrolytes, so it's getting more difficult for lithium ions to move through from one electrode to another," said Wang.

The good news is that the decrease is temporary. Once the weather warms up, the battery is back to functioning optimally. Wang says the ideal temperature for a lithium-ion battery is between 68 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

So what can EV drivers do to make their car batteries more efficient in cold weather?

"If you have a closed-door garage, park your car there. When you turn on your car and see the mile range, if the temperature is really low ... give some safe margin there," said Wang.

Also, follow these steps:

- For faster charge, precondition your car by turning it on while charging. 

- Once on the road, turn down the cabin heater and aim to use seat warmers and a heated steering wheel, as these features use less energy.  

- Set your EV with a maximum charge setting of 70% or 80%. This way, the vehicle uses the energy from the wall instead of the battery to keep warm.

Meanwhile, summertime can also be stressful for EV owners. Experts say high temperatures can also damage batteries during charging. The golden rule is to park and charge your EV in a temperature-controlled environment.

This story was originally published by Faraz Javed and Michael Glover at Scripps News Detroit.

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