How Simulation Is Used To Design ICE vs. Battery Electric Vehicle Thermal Management Systems

Written by Brad Holcomb

October 21, 2022
vehicle thermal management simulation

Understanding Vehicle Thermal Management 

Vehicle electrification across the transportation industry is being driven by demands for reducing emissions and increasing fuel economy. However, engineering these electrified vehicles comes with a new set of challenges for thermal management of the powertrain and cabin. In this blog I will discuss some of these new challenges for battery electric vehicle thermal management and how it compares to combustion engine vehicles.  But first, I’ll discuss some common traits between thermal management of both vehicle types.

Similarities Between ICE vs. Battery Electric Vehicles Thermal Management Systems 

The goals for thermal management system design remain the same regardless of the powertrain: to keep the powertrain components in their desired temperature range, and to provide a comfortable cabin for the occupants. The optimal design should balance energy usage, system cost, and reliability. In cold environments, the thermal management system should enable fast warmup of the vehicle. Both battery electric vehicles (BEV) and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are less efficient at cold temperatures. In warm environments, excess heat from the powertrain needs to be rejected to the environment to prevent damage to the components. In addition, the cabin temperature needs to be controlled for a comfortable driving experience.

Similar types of components are used between combustion engine vehicles and battery electric vehicles. A single-phase coolant loop would likely use an ethylene glycol and water mixture for the working fluid, with a pump, liquid-to-air heat exchanger, and control valve to manage the coolant flow. A cooling fan is used to enhance the air flow through the heat exchanger at low vehicle speeds. Previously mechanically driven pumps and fans were standard, but recently electrically driven components are used for greater system control. A two-phase refrigeration system is necessary for providing additional cooling below the environment temperature.

The integration of other systems is also an important consideration for transient analysis and controls. Different thermal strategies may be needed depending on the powertrain demands, component temperatures, and environment temperatures. For both a combustion engine and battery electric vehicle, a system that performs well at steady state conditions may not be sufficient to manage temperatures for transient driving cycles. The heat produced by powertrain components at ideal operating temperatures will be different than the heat generated at warmer or colder temperatures, and de-rating of the powertrain may be necessary to prevent component damage. In both types of vehicles, the demands for heating or cooling the cabin will impact the cooling circuit temperatures.

Differences Between ICE vs. Battery Electric Vehicles Thermal Management Systems 

The most obvious difference between the combustion engine vehicle and the battery electric vehicle is the heat source. In the electric vehicle, the primary waste heat to the coolant is from the motor, power electronics, and battery. If this waste heat is not sufficient, an auxiliary heater or two-phase system can be used to add heat and bring the components up to their operating temperature. Whereas in the combustion engine, the primary heat source is from the combustion process. Additional heat is added to the coolant from the engine and transmission oil caused by friction in those components.


Energy Usage for BEV


Energy Usage for ICE Systems

These differences in the heat sources lead to differences in the operating temperatures of the components. The combustion engine operates at high temperatures, which allows the coolant to be used to warm the cabin in cold environments or rejected to the environment at higher temperatures. In more complicated combustion engine cooling systems, a separate lower temperature loop maybe used to provide coolant for a charge air cooler or water-cooled condenser. This separate coolant loop also would be operating at above ambient temperatures and could reject heat to the environment using a coolant to air heat exchanger. In the battery electric vehicle, the motor and power electronics can operate at higher temperatures, but the ideal battery temperature range is between 20 °C and 40 °C.  This would require a refrigeration system to provide additional cooling for the battery because the ambient air may not be enough in warm environments.

Operating Temperatures for Vehicle Components

The differences in temperature requirements and operating conditions among the components in the BEV increase the complexity of its cooling system. Additional cooling is only required for the battery, so a separate cooling loop could be utilized for the battery linked to the refrigeration system. Cooling this smaller loop below ambient rather than the full cooling loop would require less energy to run the compressor, which increases the vehicle range. The requirement to heat the battery in cold environments would require either an auxiliary heater, operating the refrigeration system in a heat pump mode, utilizing waste heat from the motor and power electronics, or some combination of these strategies. To achieve these goals using a single system, multiple pumps and valves are necessary. More complex controls to route the coolant and optimize the pump speeds are required for efficient operation. In contrast, the combustion engine cooling system can typically be satisfied with a single coolant loop unless a charge-air-cooler requires additional cooling at a lower temperature.

Combustion Engine Cooling (Green) and Refrigeration (Magenta) Systems

BEV Motor Cooling (Green), Battery cooling (Teal), and Refrigeration (Magenta) Systems

How Simulation Is Used For Thermal Management System Designs

With the increased interaction between the vehicle systems in a BEV, an integrated system simulation is necessary for optimal design. Over a transient driving cycle, the thermal management of the battery and cabin need to be energy efficient to maximize the vehicle range. During a fast-charging event, the battery temperature needs to be carefully managed to prevent unnecessary cell aging. For a rapid acceleration or towing event, the motor and inverters need to be properly cooled to prevent component damage. GT-SUITE is the optimal simulation platform to manage these simulation needs by providing:

  • Industry leading sub-system models
    GT-SUITE simulations are recognized across the automotive industry for their accuracy and flexibility. Our publications page highlights customer use cases for every vehicle system across the electrical, mechanical, thermal, fluid, chemical, and controls domains. 
  • Detailed component models and real-time capability
    GT-SUITE provides detailed simulations for individual components that will greatly enhance the model capabilities. For the battery and motor, the temperature distributions over a driving cycle or fast-charging event in a 3D finite element model can predict hot spots and the effects of different cooling strategies. Electro-chemical models of the battery can predict the cell aging over a vehicle life cycle.  In addition, the 3D cabin comfort model linked to GT-TAITherm can accurately predict occupant comfort over a wide range of vehicle conditions. These detailed models can be reduced to a real-time capable model for software or hardware in the loop simulations. 
  • Robust model integration
    GT-SUITE is designed to properly model the interaction between vehicle systems in an integrated model. For example, the heat generated within the motor and battery can be added as a source term in the thermal component models, with individual component temperatures used to calculate the correct performance within the electrical and mechanical system models. By building these sub-system models in the same tool, it is easy to model the interaction between them and change the simulation parameters for different analyses.

Closing Thoughts on Thermal Management System Design 

The design of electric vehicles requires additional complexity for properly managing the battery, motor, power electronics, and cabin temperatures. The interaction between the single-phase and two-phase systems must be included to accurately predict the battery temperatures over a range of operating conditions. More complex controls are needed to create a robust and efficient system.  Because of these complexities and enhanced interactions, simulation is necessary for system design. We will be expanding on these topics to discuss the component and system models in subsequent blog posts.

If you’d like to learn more or are interested in trying GT-SUITE to understand thermal management in ICE or xEV, Contact us!

Written by Brad Holcomb
This blog was originally published on May 26, 2021