Formula E batteries: The big challenges
The hearts of the Formula E cars - the batteries - are also puzzles, both for the racing teams and the committed builders. Their development impacts both the sport and also the future car of the man on the street.
Formula E differs from other motor sports because of its supersonic development. The progress displayed by the batteries, the hearts of single-seater electric cars, is evidence of this. Their development brings a double issue though. They must be made more efficient, to maintain and expand the popularity of the Championship. Above all, they must also allow the automotive industry to discover how to improve the electric road car. The one that you will eventually end up driving since, according to certain estimates, it will sell, every year, more than 40 million units by 2040.
Renault E.Dams Formula E Team's Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi drive ahead during the Monaco Formula E Grand Prix at the Circuit de Monaco in Monte-Carlo on May 13, 2017Getty Images
Increased power and long battery life, two major objectives
When Formula E was born, in 2014, the main criticism was aimed at the batteries. Their capacity, equivalent to 28kWh, allowed drivers to complete only 12 to 17 laps, or half a race. They were therefore forced to make a pit stop to complete the second part of the race at the wheel of a second single-seater. It is still the case this season, the third in history. But the progress is considerable. Within 2 years, battery capacity will almost be doubled, and so increased to 54kWh. Better, maximum engine power, currently capped at 200kW in qualification – the equivalent of 270 horses – will be enhanced to 250kW, or 335 horses. In just five years, thanks to development, electric cars will become much faster. And much more autonomous
Containing weight and volume, a great challenge
This progress will be made by containing the volume and weight of the electric heart. And it's no little feat. You simply have to remember the sizes of telephone batteries at the beginning of the century to understand just how complex the task has been. The single-seater Formula organ's capacity is equivalent to that of... 4,000 smartphones! It will be doubled by 2019, but the mass will increase only from 200 to 250 kg. The feat will be made possible by means of a new architecture, more favourable to cooling, and a review of cell design. Just like the size of the batteries, the weight is, today, the main obstacle to greater development. Both for single-seater Formula E, which must not exceed more than 900 kg, and for marketed vehicles.
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Formula E batteries at the core of the short and long-term challenges
All of these improvements will attract the eye of the major global manufacturers. Audi, Citroën, and Jaguar have joined Renault in producing the cars. BMW is on its way, Mercedes as well. They have all recently reviewed their strategies to get the best seat in the middle of the booming electric car market. During the fifth season, the batteries – currently provided by Williams Advanced Engineering – will be delivered by McLaren Applied Technologies, who are working in partnership with Atieva on the design, development and manufacture of the batteries. Sony Energy Devices will be supplying Atieva with battery cells validated for motorsport application. Imagine, then: all these brands will be able to benefit, observe and take advantage, freely, from the experience of former members of Elon Musk's firm to power their race cars. Before transferring these assets to the heart of the car for the man on the street.
Thus, Formula E is a laboratory unique in its kind. Julius Bar has even devoted a series of six reports to it, called Electrified Visions. This is the premier.