Q&A with Romeo Power, Part 1: EV battery safety, route analysis, maintenance & more

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Updated Sep 12, 2018

With virtually no maintenance, ultra-quiet operation, no tailpipe emissions and growing range and capability, electric trucks and vans continue to attract more attention among fleets.

But a few battery fires have gotten some headlines lately that may cause some fleets to hesitate when thinking of acquiring an electric vehicle.

However, these fires have been confined to smaller Class 1 passenger vehicles where in all but one case reported by Hard Working Trucks dealt with battery packs that had been severely damaged in a collision.

What about larger vehicle classes? Will battery packs be better protected within a stronger chassis that bigger vehicle classes provide?

“That is our understanding after talking with our partner, Agility Fuel Solutions,” said Romeo Power Technology Chief Technical Officer Porter Harris. “This is due to placement and overall pack engineering.”

We recently reported on a partnership between Agility Fuel Solutions and Romeo Power—two alt fuel companies that have come together to produce custom-designed battery modules for Class 4-8 commercial vehicles.

The companies are coming out swinging. Harris, the engineer behind battery design for the Space X rocket, said that at 220-watt hours per kilogram, his L.A.-based company offers the lightest and most energy dense batteries on the market. Harris expects a 15 percent increase in energy capacity within two years.

Fleets can get free design and cost analysis services to determine viability for going electric. We recently caught up with Harris to learn more about Romeo Power and powertrain batteries.

HWT: For the most part, fleets usually stick to the same routes. Does greater route predictably help to maximize EV efficiency? If so, how?

Harris: Absolutely. We would be able to optimize the overall battery operation window based off the drive profile, increasing pack cycle life.  This can be done in real-time through OTA updates.

HWT: Can battery life be better utilized by rotating EVs in a fleet so that they’re exposed to a greater variety of topographies, cargo loads, speeds and stops?

Harris: This really depends on the types of profiles that are being discussed. Theoretically, a less demanding load could be swapped with a more demanding one, somewhat equalizing the cycle life between the two.  The profiles for the fleet would need to be analyzed to see if there are any significant gains to rotation or for rotation optimization.

HWT: How is a Romeo battery designed to respond in the event that it is damaged in an accident?

Harris: The battery module itself is designed for certain levels of crush, short circuit, and thermal runaway fault tolerance. From a pack level, handled by our partner, Agility FS, the battery is able to isolate high voltages (HVIL), detect isolation faults, tolerate short circuits and is strategically designed for crash incidents.

HWT: Can solar panels installed on top of truck cabs and trailers afford that much improvement in battery life between primary charge sessions?

Harris: I’ve never done the analysis on this. It would depend on how much weight and drag you would be adding versus the amount of power/energy you would be generating.  It would have to generate more than your new average Wh/mi (with the panels) to be feasible.

HWT: What kind of maintenance can fleets expect with a Romeo powertrain battery?

Harris: We are looking at almost zero maintenance.  would only include the changeout of the coolant at roughly 5 years or 70,000 miles.

HWT: Heat dissipation in a conventional internal combustion engine is critical to performance. How important is it for EV batteries? What’s the preferred method of maintaining optimal temperatures for Romeo batteries (in freezing climates as well)?

Harris: Our design has been optimized to keep all the battery cells at roughly the same temperature.  This ensures the cells degrade at the same controllable rate. The pack uses a heater (cold weather package) for cold weather performance and a chiller for cooling.