Immersion cooling: the key to solving EV range anxiety

immersion cooling
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A new immersion cooling fluid design by a UK firm could unlock the potential of the electric vehicle (EV) market by targeting thermal management.

M&I Materials, a global specialist in highly engineered materials, has developed a new coolant fluid which could ease range anxiety in the electric vehicle market. The fluid, MIVOLT, is a biodegradable, dielectric fluid that can provide immersion cooling for electric vehicle batteries and charging points; targeting thermal management as way of progressing the electric vehicle market by unlocking longer ranges, ultra-fast charging, higher performance and more environmentally friendly electric vehicles and associated infrastructure.

One of the key engineering challenges to mitigating range anxiety in the market is thermal management: the need to maintain a steady battery temperature. Allowing the battery to overheat accelerates battery degradation and, in extreme cases, risks fire. In the absence of effective cooling methods, manufacturers are therefore limited in terms of high EV power output and rapid charging, both of which can lead to overheating.

M&I Materials has been working in advanced materials and electrical insulation in partnership with some of the world’s best universities and research institutions for over 100 years, with a core specialism in dielectric fluid for more than 40 years. From Formula One cars and spacecraft to trains and power stations, M&I has established itself as a leading manufacturer. Giles Salt, CEO of M&I Materials, told us about the product’s potential and the importance of support for electric vehicle infrastructure to progress the electric vehicle market.

How did MIVOLT come about?

M&I Materials is a privately owned business which became independent 25 years ago. One range of products the company sells is coolant fluids that go into transformers, distributed under the MIDEL brand. We have been producing these dielectric fluidsm which go internally into the transformer to cool it down and insulate it, for 40 years. We sell to wind turbines in the North Sea, transformers going into New York, high speed trains in China – there is a lot of places the fluid goes that you might not imagine.

The MIVOLT product is an extension of that thinking: we could see the opportunity in the electric vehicle market with batteries in particular. Currently, batteries use indirect cooling technology such as a cooling plate – but we thought we could find a different way of doing this by fully immersing the batteries in the coolant.

How does the fluid allow for faster charging and increased power output?

One of the big issues for EV batteries is thermal management: there is a lot of focus on this because the high temperatures cause all sorts of issues. It means the batteries do not perform as well – they work best at 15 to 35°C. When you charge or discharge them, they will heat up and so when they get hot, they lose their efficiency. We can’t currently charge the batteries as quickly as we would like as they get too hot; and if you drive some EVs hard, for example, they begin to lose power because the battery gets too hot.

At the moment, batteries can only be charged at a certain rate; because the car battery management systems reduce charge rates to prevent overheating. If we can find a way to manage the heat increase, then we can charge EVs much faster. People have range anxiety – the fear that the battery in their electric vehicle will run out during a long journey – and using this fluid could mean charging takes a similar time to filling up a car with petrol like we do now.

How does MIVOLT immersion cooling bolster the environmental credentials of EVs and charging infrastructure?

The key point here is that our product is biodegradable – it doesn’t biodegrade in the battery environment, but if it spills out it will then biodegrade. The product has a really good environmental footprint. Longevity is another important element: if the batteries last longer, it will slow down the use of lithium and other battery resources.

How can M&I Materials bring this material to the market in a fast and efficient way?

We need to engage and work in collaboration with other industry partners. There are consultants that are supporting us in this, such as the University of Warwick. We need to work with the automotive industry in particular; we recognise there is a development cycle for the vehicles so as they develop into the next generation that is where the opportunity is.

There are many opportunities with this product – there are other electronic systems that can be submerged in this fluid like power systems; things like computers and data centres; as well as other batteries outside of electric vehicles.

The charging stations have to have cooling systems in place as well – they have power banks or battery stores alongside them. There is going to be a proliferation of charging stations and there are cooling systems within them, some of which cool the lead that goes from the charging system into the car; and these are starting to use cooling liquids. This is important as we have to handle this part of the equipment. Having a safe biodegradable fluid in them makes sense.

What are your thoughts on policy surrounding electric vehicles and infrastructure? How can the rollout of electric mobility be accelerated?

Electric vehicles are the future and from a policy point of view supporting the development of a comprehensive charging infrastructure development is a critical game changer. People need to feel reassured that the necessary infrastructure is in place to support the use of these vehicles. This is the remit of the central government – they are supporting it but the more it happens the faster the market will adopt. This is genuinely an exciting opportunity; we have seen proof of concept of this product at a prototype stage in vehicles. Immersion cooling using MIVOLT has practical engineering benefits; and everyone is scrambling to develop this as the market is so new.

Giles Salt

CEO

M&I Materials 

www.mimaterials.com

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