Brian Chislea

Brian Chislea

Dow’s Brian Chislea Discusses the Roadblocks in EV Infrastructure, Overcoming Challenges in Reliability & Shares Solutions for Achieving Mobility

Dow is a chemical manufacturer which operates manufacturing sites in 31 countries and employs 37,800 people. In 2022, its sales reached US$57bn. 

Brian Chislea joined Dow in 2004 as a Compound Semi-Conductor Associate and was later promoted to Scientist and Application Engineer. He’s passionate about EV development, advancing charging technology and improving reliability. 

Hi Brian, tell us, what are the concerns and challenges around EV reliability? 

The emerging electric vehicle (EV) market faces a unique challenge in reliability due to the stark differences in assemblies compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Legacy reliability standards and public expectations for ‘refuelling’ are not fully translatable to EVs. A significant societal paradigm shift towards this new technology needs to happen. ICEs have had a century to evolve well-defined standards while EVs have not, with current standards primarily focused on safety rather than crucial reliability. Additionally, the absence of a robust charging infrastructure places a burden on EV owners, potentially requiring them to buy and install their own. EV reliability demands also vary based on charging levels, with China and Europe having four modes, while North America and Japan have three. For Level 3 chargers — think: outdoor, super-fast, public DC chargers with over 480V power source — reliability is an especially critical concern.

How can these concerns damage EV development and uptake?

The primary concerns to be addressed are battery fires and an inadequate network of reliable chargers. The lack of public EV ‘refuelling’ or EV charging significantly impedes how rapidly this technology is adopted. To compound the struggle, when charging infrastructure is available it is much slower than refuelling an ICE vehicle, the locations are few and not always convenient, or even, as several studies have highlighted, chargers are inoperable. This underscores the importance of reliability at critical Level 3 charging as this is what most drivers will rely on. As expected, when compared to century-old technology, the reliability of EV and EV chargers will not be at the same level. This is only further amplified by the vast range of innovations being developed by so many brand-new companies, which highlights a need for employing existing aligned reliability standards and authoring new ones at scale and pace.

How reliable is EV charging technology? 

Charging a single battery is a basic concept, but the complexity arises with the scale of an EV battery pack, involving thermal management, power feedback and the overall voltage. Public charging introduces additional challenges, such as payment collection, vandalism risks and outdoor installations, increasing risk of failure. The absence of widely-adopted reliability standards for EV chargers allows manufacturers to choose protection levels, which often leads to insufficient safeguards. Unlike the electronics industry — which employs well-established practices based on end-use, from indoor consumer electronics to life-critical devices — EV charger designs currently lack adequate protection, contributing to reported reliability issues. Establishing purposeful and broadly adopted reliability standards is crucial to address these challenges and enhance the overall reliability of EV charging infrastructure.

How is the industry working to ensure reliability of EV batteries?

The fast-evolving mobility industry demands swift action on reliability. Industry groups, including IPC and SAE, are addressing the absence of purpose-built reliability standards, focusing on identifying gaps and leveraging what is applicable. While safety standards are established, additional knowledge is essential, making it a long-term project. To expedite this process, broader industry involvement is crucial. In the near term, OEMs and battery manufacturers are collaborating with materials industry leaders like Dow MobilityScience to define protective solutions. Batteries require fire protection, thermal management and ingress protection with dielectric protective materials adding minimal weight. Mitigating thermal propagation for passenger safety is vital, and materials play a significant role, offering essential protection and supporting lightweighting — an area critical for expanded EV adoption. Urgent and proactive collaborations within the industry are crucial for making EVs the de facto standard on today's roads.

How can EV reliability be supported and regulated?

OEMs possess extensive knowledge in building safe, reliable vehicles. However, a consumer’s decision between purchasing an ICE or EV, as well as choosing which OEM to purchase from, hinges on their paradigm, comfort level and perceived risk. That’s why solving battery and charging challenges is pivotal. The current lack of well-defined regulations around EV charging results in insufficient use of protective materials and sub-assemblies falling short of high reliability standards. Ongoing collaborations with industry groups, including Dow's work, aim to bridge this knowledge gap and recent increases in government funding with accountability for reliable operations signify substantial progress. An ideal first step involves applying legacy industry best practices and standards, particularly from electronics, focusing on reliability. OEMs and tiers should leverage and build on existing partnerships with materials and electronics industry experts to guide them through these changes. Dow, for example, has decades of knowledge in outdoor device reliability that is very applicable to charging units.

What solutions can be realised to achieve reliable electric mobility?

“In the near term, leveraging a materials partner's expertise is a good first step to enhance reliability. Collaborating with industry groups and experts in electrical and electronics reliability accelerates solution development, surpassing the automotive industry’s traditional approach of working in silos. Implementing best practices and adding protectives — like coating, conformal coatings, gels, encapsulants and sealants — can bring about a significant step change with minimal cost and effort. Put another way, drawing parallels with the electronics industry where protectives enhance long-term reliability at the circuit board level showcases an easily adaptable approach for EV design. Although safety standards exist, there's a substantial opportunity to contribute specifically to reliability. Achieving this long-term goal requires extensive knowledge sharing and collaboration across the value chain to evolve standards and best practices for emerging technology comprehensively. Progress is underway, but the finish line is not yet in sight.

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