With the annual E3 gaming show just around the corner, it bears looking at one industry that owes a lot to hardcore gamers: the auto world specifically electric vehicles, or EVs.
You see, gamers, all those mind-melting hours you spent blasting baddies and fragging foes? No matter what your mother or Jack Thompson or your bathroom scale told you, you were actually doing something world-changingly wonderful: refining the technology that is now making electric cars a viable way of scooting us around.
First, some battery basics: Extreme weather and lithium-ion batteries simply don't mix. Cold weather, in particular, slows the chemical reactions that give these batteries their charge. Needless to say, this creates a potential problem for electric cars, which use big batteries instead of gas tanks, and need to be able to roll over both sand and snow without puttering out.
In other words: For an electric car to be effective, it needs to have a way of keeping its batteries at a nice Goldilocks temperature. To do this, some of them, such as the Ford Focus Electric and Chevy Volt, use liquid cooling and heating rigs that look an awful lot like the systems hardcore gamers have long used to keep their overclocked PCs from overheating.
According to Bill Wallace, GM's director of global battery systems engineering, the Volt's system keeps its batteries running at an ideal temperature range of 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, even while driving through chills as low as -13 degrees F and has high as 122 degrees F. That means that, if needed, this thing can warm the battery by up to 63 degrees, or cool it by as many as 33.
The one (highly predictable) downside of a liquid system: it's a bit more expensive than the air-powered alternative found in the Nissan Leaf. Still, the increased ability to keep the batteries at a nice temperature means that these systems should allow the batteries to pull vehicles along for longer between charges a bonus that surely makes them worth the money to anybody considering driving over the EV cliff.
Looking for a bit more techie detail on how this all works? I'll let Gil Portalatin, Ford's Electrification System Integration Manager explain for me:
"Focus Electric uses an integrated cooling system that is comprised of three cooling loops to cool the powertrain and electronics, cool/heat the battery, and provide cabin heating. Each loop has its own valve and pump that can either isolate the loop or allow coolant to migrate from one loop to another based upon the thermal strategy mode.
"The vehicle also uses a heat exchanger that uses the air conditioning system to chill the coolant going to the battery. The integrated cooling system enables the Focus Electric thermal system to use the same base Focus Cooling Module and degas bottle. It doesn't require several specialized radiators to cool the vehicle."
Don't speak car? Portalatin is basically saying that the same coolant flows through both the battery, and the other parts of the car's guts that need to stay cool, such as the powertrain and the heater core. The total stash of cooling liquid: About four gallons. This approach is actually a bit different than the Volt's system, which uses an isolated batch of 1.6 gallons of car coolant, mixed with filtered water, to keep things cool.
Yes, gamers, be proud: It seems like all your time spent saving fictional worlds may make it possible to save this one.
Photo by Pete Pachal