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From racetrack to road – How Formula E engineering shapes EV technology

05 May 2021

It is no secret that electric and hybrid vehicles are taking pole position in the future of the automotive market.

The trend of electrification is growing and evolving every day, with major automakers scrapping traditional combustion engines and aiming to offer all-electric line-ups. In 2021 alone, Ford pledged that all cars on sale in Europe will be electric by 2030 and General Motors plans to exclusively offer EVs by 2035. As the electrification trend grows, the need for new innovations to bring this technology to life and keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe is more pressing than ever.

In 2020, carmakers sold more than 500,000 battery electric cars in Europe: a milestone in the industry’s move away from fossil fuels. Global political agendas and societal expectations are demanding that this milestone continue to be topped, with experts such as IHS Markit predicting a 70% increase in EV sales in 2021. OEMs are racing to deliver EVs, but with such a surge in demand also comes significant challenges. 

The challenge of a saturated EV market

At the start of 2020, the electric vehicle market was at full throttle, however, like many industries the automotive sector was struck hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the market has made an impressive recovery, a shortage of semi-conductor chip supplies has added another obstacle to global production efforts. Major automakers have been forced to shut factories after executives began warning of the issue last year. With demand outstripping supply, working with providers such as TSMC and Intel to make this a reality. As if this wasn’t enough, experts now forecast shortages in batteries and other key components are on the horizon. 

Car component shortage aside, EVs have presented several other challenges for OEMs to tackle:

Safety – The safety of drivers and passengers has always been of utmost concern since the concept of EVs first came about – and this thankfully hasn’t changed. Safety is a top priority for both engineers and automakers, and as new innovations are developed, the safety of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians continues to come first. With the growth of the EV market, we will continue to see new-to-the-world technological developments in thermal management and vehicle/component durability that will help assure vehicle buyers while protecting the bottom line of manufacturers.

Range – The range of an electric vehicle is of crucial importance as manufacturers bring new models to market. Thermal management, light weighting and fast-charging battery technologies are key factors in extending vehicle range – all issues that OEMs and their suppliers continue to give significant attention. 

Global infrastructure – A focus for the automotive market and governments is to create more efficient charging infrastructure globally to support mass EV rollout. It is crucial that the industry keeps pace on matching battery developments with charging infrastructure to ensure the right balance is struck. 

The importance of engineering collaboration 

For over 100 years DuPont has been delivering innovation to the automotive industry, collaborating with partners around the world to develop materials and technologies that can help reduce weight, improve thermal management, increase overall durability, boost connectivity, and make cars safer for drivers and passengers. Through partnerships and collaboration, we are helping push the boundaries of innovation in vehicle electrification. 

For example, earlier this year we announced a new technical partnership with the Nissan e.dams Formula E team, where DuPont and Nissan engineers are working together to look at ways to improve e-motor performance and battery safety under the immense pressures of the Formula E racetrack. In this instance, we’re using motorsports as a ‘laboratory on wheels’ where issues in range, safety, cost, and durability can be tried and tested then applied to our existing and growing portfolio of solutions for commercial hybrid and electrified vehicles. 

Any key findings and material science solutions developed on the racetrack are being constantly analysed, adapted, and improved to advance commercial EV safety. For example, material science promises significant advances on the safety front. DuPont BETAMATE crash-durable structural adhesives have been engineered to improve the structural integrity of vehicles, helping to improve safety and reduce emissions. DuPont estimates that one in three cars on the road globally are bonded with BETAMATE. 

We’re constantly looking to develop solutions that not only address safety, but performance and durability too. In the current generation of FIA ABB Formula E World Championship racing cars, Kevlar fibres combine toughness, strength, and temperature stability to reinforce composite body panels as well as protecting the vehicle’s main battery as part of a composite box containing and protecting the battery in the event of a crash. It is test beds such as Formula E that offer an opportunity to quickly develop advanced applications and apply them to EVs that will continue to be refined and produced in mass volumes.

The Formula E World Championship brings together some of the best electrification engineering in the world to achieve peak performance and results on the track. Working with the Nissan Formula E team pushes the limits of the DuPont team on solving the most prominent EV and HEV industry challenges. The future of automotive is electric and working within motorsports is helping put us at the forefront of sustainable mobility on our roads.   

Article by Carlo Fiorella, Global Market Manager, DuPont Automotive and Christophe Van Herreweghe, Global Market Director, DuPont Mobility & Materials 

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