Canada Is Banning Internal Combustion Engines, but What About the Cold?

Canada and Norway will soon ban ICE cars, despite the negative effects of cold weather on batteries.
Chris Young

Canada announced this week it will ban the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and light-duty trucks by 2035 as part of its efforts to fight climate change, a report from Reuters explains.

Canada joins a growing list of countries banning the fuel-guzzling vehicles, with Britain saying it will ban ICE vehicles by 2030, and Norway — another country with extremely cold winters — having announced it will do the same as early as 2025.

Though phasing out ICE vehicles is undeniably a necessity, alongside other measures required for mitigating the effects of climate change, one key stumbling block remains in cold weather countries: Extreme climates reduce the range and increase the charging times of electric vehicles.

Batteries in the cold

Cold climates can cut EV range drastically. A 2019 report by AAA stated that cold weather can reduce the range of electric vehicles by up to 40 percent.

In a world where electric vehicle (EV) ranges are still a long way off from allowing the same accessibility as ICE vehicles, the effects of low temperatures might make the transition to electric vehicles harder.

The AAA study (the link opens a PDF) found that at 20 degrees F (-6 degrees C), the average EV range fell by 12 percent when the car's heater was not turned on. However, by turning the heater on while driving, that range dropped by 41 percent.

The reason behind this is that EVs use energy to heat the battery coolant to prevent it from freezing in cold weather, as well as for heating the passenger cabin.

Slower charge times

While internal combustion engines generate their own heat while working, EVs need to generate that heat elsewhere in cold temperatures, typically by using the battery thermal management system.

Another problem is the issue of charge times in extreme climates. A 2018 study details how cold temperatures affect electrochemical reactions within the lithium-ion batteries used in cars, forcing EV battery management systems to limit the charging rates to avoid damage to the battery.

That study found that, when an EV battery was charged at 77 degrees F (25 degrees C), a DC fast charger could get a battery to an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. At 32 degrees F (0 degrees C), however, the battery's charge was 36 percent lower after the same time period.

Tips for EV owners in cold countries 

While the effects of cold weather on electric vehicles are an obstacle to widespread adoption in areas with extreme climates, the new announcement by Canada and several other countries mean that eventually, people won't have a choice.

Though innovations will undeniably come to the fore — the Audi e-tron, for example, already includes a heat pump, heated seats for more efficient heating, and a cold-weather option that preheats the car while it's charging — a bit of extra planning might always be necessary for EV owners in regions with cold climates.

As Anna Stefanopoulou, director of the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, told Wired, EV owners in cold countries should try not to let their car's batteries go below 20 percent, as that initial charge will help to prevent the slowing down of charge times.

Drive Electric Vermont points out that preheating the interior of the car before departure will leave more energy for the battery charge. Likewise, driving just a little slower can increase range by reducing air resistance.

Hybrids and hydrogen as an alternative?

For drivers who want to be eco-friendly without the extra planning and considerations, another option is self-charging electric-ICE hybrid vehicles, which use their internal combustion engine to get going.

Hydrogen vehicles also have the potential for better performance in cold weather. Toyota, for example, recently touted the performance of its fuel cell vehicles in cold climates, when compared to EVs, saying that neither range nor performance is affected in cold temperatures.

While there's no stopping the sustainable transportation drive of the coming years, a little extra planning and foresight will help vehicle owners be ready for the transition, either to electric or fuel cell vehicles.

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