Electric vehicles (EVs)—including cars, trucks, and other automobiles powered by electricity as opposed to fossil fuels—are becoming more popular as consumers, business leaders, and public-sector decision makers increasingly acknowledge benefits. Electric vehicles emit far less pollution than traditional gasoline-powered cars, which is better for both the environment and public health. But also, electric vehicles are becoming cheaper to operate and maintain than gasoline-powered cars, due in part to the simplicity of their design.
Even so, there are opportunities to optimize engineering elements common to existing EV designs. “The main consumer concern is the limited driving range of EVs,” Automotive World reports; engineers therefore must not only limit the environmental impact of EVs, but increase value and longevity for consumers and other buyers as well.
Fortunately, companies are making progress in this area with improved, lightweight solutions—especially through the use of composites, aluminum, or multi-material solutions instead of all-steel parts common to traditional vehicles. In this article, we discuss some best practices EV engineers should consider for optimizing electric vehicle design. We also highlight the evolution of composites, aluminum, and multi-material solutions, and their roles as ideal materials for EV design, such as their use in battery enclosures and other internal components.
EVs are driving the evolution of automobile design
Although they are available to the public, EVs are an evolving technology—engineers are finding new ways to optimize their design. For example, increasing the energy capacity of batteries improves the range and economic value of EVs; but “the EV battery mass/vehicle range reality is forcing engineers to look for mass savings in other areas,” as SAE International describes.
Now, engineers are exploring more diverse materials of choice to improve the functional design and increase the value of EVs. As we will find, “recent advances have streamlined the manufacturing process to make high-volume composites a realistic alternative for EVs [with] the potential to offset the weight of large battery packs and electric propulsion systems,” SAE continues.
How lightweight materials make EV benefits possible
Engineers must address some of EV manufacturers’ most significant challenges to bring about these benefits. These include high costs and complications associated with high-volume production; the resilience and flexibility of materials; and the weight of materials and their impact on range. Fortunately, “vehicles with lightweight structural components… and less powerful/expensive batteries can have a range similar to those with heavy EV stainless steel components and more powerful/expensive batteries,” as CompositesWorld describes.
5 Engineering Tips for Future EV Design
Here, we consider five engineering tips for electric vehicle design that further improve their range, value, and safety. We also demonstrate how “composite materials offer EV developers new options for ‘lightweighting,’ thermal management, and structures,” as SAE International describes.
1. Optimize internal design.
Electric vehicles often have a simpler design than internal combustion engine vehicles. With the right design, this can help reduce weight and improve efficiency. Enclosures represent one of the most interesting areas for improving internal design, according to CompositesWorld, where using composites to reduce weight can counterbalance the heavy weight of battery modules.
Composites and other lightweight solutions have excellent weight-to-strength ratios, allowing them to be thinner than their heavy metal equivalents. Composites also eliminate the need for an air gap between a battery and its metal enclosure, making them “a space-saving option as well as a lightweight solution,” as described by SAE. Composites also can be molded into any shape, allowing for more precise optimization per design.
2. Eliminate wear and system losses.
Electric vehicles have fewer moving parts than internal combustion engine vehicles, so there’s an opportunity to reduce wear, corrosion, and waste. Composites contribute in this area by dissipating electric charge and resisting high temperatures; they enable engineers to “optimize heat transfer between the battery and cooling device without adding significant weight or volume.”
Composites can be customized to meet the specific needs of electric vehicles, such as resistance to high temperatures and the ability to dissipate electric charge. Engineers have access to a wider range of composite options compared to metals; each is unique in its thermal conduction or isolation potential, delivering on any engineering need.
3. Increase efficiency, one part at a time.
Electric vehicles are more efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles; structural elements can contribute to that efficiency. This includes everything from the drivetrain to the battery enclosure. Engineers can “focus on parts of the vehicle that offer the best value, such as battery casings or the chassis,” says SAE. “It’s here that lightweight materials, such as aluminum and composites, provide advantages over traditional steel components.”
4. Consider the evolution of design.
Electric vehicle engineering and design elements evolve, both in terms of efficiency and consumer appeal. Composites and other lightweight solutions allow for notable advantages in this area: engineers can easily form composites into any structure, for example, accommodating future EV designs.
Manufacturers also can leverage the production efficiencies of composites to increase the adaptability of their designs. TRB Lightweight Structures uses a fully automated process for composite manufacturing that allows for rapid production. “Traditional slow-setting resins have been replaced with snap-cure resins and pre-preg materials” so that “parts are produced robotically, with a cycle time of less than 10 minutes,” as SAE describes TRB’s process.
5. Choose composites and other lightweight combinations as long-term solutions.
In addition to their lighter weight, greater strength, and greater flexibility compared to traditional materials, composites, recyclable aluminum, and multi-material solutions will contribute to the environmental benefits associated with future EVs as well. “Companies are now focusing on mass-producing sustainable composites for use in all aspects of next-generation vehicles,” for example, as Automotive World reports. “Green composites, using natural fibers as the reinforcing agents and/or bio-resins as the polymer matrix, are derived from renewable resources, including low-value agricultural waste, and can be biodegradable.
Lightweight Innovations and the Future of EV Production
As electric vehicles become more popular, we can expect to see more advances in electric vehicle design, thanks in part to the benefits of lightweight innovation. Composites are already a viable production material for electric vehicles, especially in the development of battery enclosures. Composites, aluminum, and multi-material solutions will contribute to the sustainable and environmentally safe production of future EVs as well.
“Both mid- and high-volume production of composites is now entirely achievable with automated and efficient production lines, making composites an extremely valuable option for future EV design that can change the mobility industry,” as SAE International describes.
Lightweight Solutions from TRB
TRB Lightweight Structures is a sustainable manufacturer and supplier of composite and other lightweight components for EVs and transportation solutions. We use a fully automated process for manufacturing that allows for the rapid production of lightweight structures, including battery enclosures for electric vehicles. Contact us today for a free consultation and to learn more about our solutions.