TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—Batteries should no longer be treated like traditional vehicle components, manufactured like widgets and shipped into the ether. They're more akin to newborn babies.
Much like DNA, batteries' underlying chemistries and manufacturing processes shape their performance and reliability. How they behave in the real world, however, depends on how they're nurtured. For example, do they sit in high heat? Or, are they repeatedly charged at fast chargers?
"They're unlike any other component in our modern devices right now," said Tal Sholklapper, co-founder of Berkeley, Calif., battery intelligence provider Voltaiq. "Everything else is mechanical or semiconductors. These are more like living beings."
As such, he says, auto makers should do a better job monitoring battery health. But at a time in which President Biden and major car companies have etched ambitious electric vehicle sales targets for the years ahead, few auto makers have such capabilities.
Voltaiq intends to change that. The company's platform collects more than 80 metrics from batteries on their origins, chemistries and ongoing performance. Usually kept in disparate repositories that are difficult to access, the data can be combined and analyzed to better detect problems, distill insights and predict reliability.
Such intelligence is ever-more valuable. Battery-related recalls can cost millions: Hyundai's recall of its Kona electric vehicles cost the auto maker approximately $900 million this year. Worse, battery fires such as the ones experienced by Chevy Bolts that prompted a more recent recall can lead to safety concerns and awkward requests that car owners park their vehicles outside, which undermine confidence in EVs just as sales are supposed to proliferate.
While thwarting recalls is perhaps the most obvious use for Voltaiq's platform, it also can be used throughout design and production, helping auto makers evaluate suppliers and explore chemistries and designs at a pace that matches the targets they've set around electrification.
"It can take years to arrive at the final battery cell that you're going to put into a vehicle," Sholklapper said.
"We can help accelerate that process, significantly streamline it, and get deeper insights into the batteries. … With how sensitive they are, temperature, usage patterns, suppliers, new chemistries. All of that comes into play, and you can't model your way out of the problems."