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Uber’s flying car has one big problem-commentary

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One other main tech downdraft for flying vehicles is warmth. Batteries, as everybody is aware of, get sizzling once you use them. And, sadly, the extra energy you draw from them over a shorter time interval, the warmer they get. That is why your smartphone is hotter after watching a video than after a cellphone name of the identical length – watching video requires extra power.

The sort of short-burst power wanted to carry car, batteries and people skyward will produce sufficient warmth to lift the battery pack temperature above protected ranges for all types of elements.

Sadly, most cooling programs for warmth producing elements are energetic programs that depend on pumping round liquids – the best way the water pump, coolant tanks and a radiator hold a automotive engine cool. However that is a double-whammy for flying automobiles as a result of energetic programs require power to work – placing extra stress on the battery – and are heavy – requiring extra power to carry.

The opposite choice, passive cooling programs, have their very own points. Passive programs normally work by drawing warmth away from a supply and spreading it out to chill – most frequently throughout copper or aluminum plates. Passive programs to chill sizzling batteries in flying vehicles would require giant floor space and, once more, the added weight of lifting metallic cooling plates off the bottom.

To work, we are going to want a lot smaller, a lot lighter cooling options comparable to carbon fiber – considered one of options underneath improvement and examine by NASA – which additionally has actual points with lifting batteries into flight and holding them cool. (Disclosure – my firm, KULR Expertise, is the event companion with NASA on passive carbon fiber cooling options).



Lastly, the batteries now we have now simply aren’t protected sufficient.

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Though it is uncommon, lithium-ion batteries fail. Once they do, they create superb ranges of warmth, hearth and chemical gasoline discharges. With billions in use each day, this happens someplace repeatedly, sometimes with catastrophic penalties.

When battery failure occurs in your cellular phone, for instance, your cellphone melts. That is a single battery cell. Nearly every part bigger than a smartphone – from laptops to vehicles – requires multi-cell battery packs – typically 50 or 100 or extra cells tightly packed collectively. Given the doubtless power necessities of flying vehicles, they require 1000’s of battery cells in a whole bunch of packs.

When a lithium-ion battery fails in a multi-cell battery pack, it triggers its neighboring cells to fail too – a situation often called thermal runaway propagation. Consider it like a forest hearth. It might begin with one tree, nevertheless it spreads from tree to tree in a short time.

In thermal runaway propagation, issues do not simply soften, they explode. Violently. Watch this video of a multi-cell battery pack blowing aside a NASA take a look at robotic. Now think about that in a flying automotive. That is why the Federal Aviation Administration has issued repeated, strict pointers about even transporting multi-cell lithium-ion batteries, not to mention utilizing them in flight.

But it surely’s truly worse than that.

We all know that doing sure sorts of issues to lithium-ion batteries makes them extra more likely to fail and set off thermal runaway. Repeated biking – charging and draining the battery, particularly at excessive pace – is a hazard. So is drawing extreme energy from the battery in brief bursts. Repeated bumps, lumps and bodily injury to a battery also can make it extra more likely to fail.

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Provided that flying vehicles are more likely to require high-energy, quick charging batteries and actions comparable to takeoff and touchdown are doubtless to attract huge energy rapidly, we might be exposing batteries in flying vehicles to among the very circumstances that make them extra more likely to fail.

Possibly you’ll be able to’t inform, however as somebody who works in rising battery expertise, I am truly an optimist. Relating to batteries, I believe we’ll get there – however we’re at the very least 5 years away from demo stage and even additional away from mass market. Making a flying automotive a actuality requires greater than a way of realizing the place we might prefer to go – it requires realizing the place we’re.

Commentary by Michael Mo, the co-founder and CEO of KULR Expertise, which develops carbon fiber cooling options for power and expertise. He has a grasp’s in electrical engineering from College of California Santa Barbara and is a veteran enterprise chief and investor in expertise corporations.

Disclosure: KULR Expertise, is the event companion with NASA on passive carbon fiber cooling options.

Observe CNBC’s Opinion part on Twitter @CNBCopinion.

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