Why Lucid matters to Formula E

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Who is Lucid and why does it matter to Formula E audiences?

Deep breath. This may give you a touch of deja vu. Lucid is a Californian automotive start-up using Chinese money to develop an electric car designed to topple Tesla. Sound familiar? That’s because it seems to be a similar recipe to that being employed by Faraday Future and NextEV. 

Lucid has released details of its first car, called the Air. It’s a handsome beasty and bears some resemblance to the Tesla Model S. Specs are impressive, with the battery capable apparently of delivering around 1000hp, which equates to roughly 745kW. What’s more, the company claims that the batteries, which come courtesy of Samsung, can stand up to repeated cycles without degradation. 

Here’s why this is key. Lucid is reportedly going to be building the batteries for McLaren which will be the spec Formula E race batteries in seasons five and six. Cells are said to be supplied by Sony. 

Car and Driver magazine had some very interesting things to say on the subject of the new Formula E batteries (NB the battery packs are not swapped during races; drivers change cars instead):

Peter Rawlinson, Lucid’s chief technical officer (and the former chief engineer of the Tesla Model S), has confirmed to C/D that the agreement will be part of a three-way partnership among McLaren Applied Technologies, Lucid, and Sony. Lucid will design and construct the battery and battery management software; Sony will supply the small-format, commodity-sized cylindrical cells within; and McLaren will manage the logistics and trackside support.

“Our batteries will power the entire Formula E race series for seasons 5 and 6,” said Rawlinson. “There are some major automakers entering that series—illustrious, well-recognized names—and they will all be running our batteries.”

Rawlinson also pointed out that, while many larger companies are marketing their technology to Formula E, Lucid is being paid to supply the battery technology. Right now, Formula E cars have their packs swapped partway through the race, but the new pack is said to allow them to finish races uninterrupted and be lighter than with today’s Williams-supplied pack. That progress is enabled partly through the evolution of the cell technology itself and partly through the engineering of the California-based development team, C/D was told.

Racing drives technological progress for road vehicles in many ways, and this situation won’t be any different. The original FIA battery specifications included a 200kg cell-weight limit, a 200kW peak power limit, and a maximum usable energy of 28kWh. In revised specs starting with Season 5, cell weight has been nudged to 250kg and peak power goes up to 250kW (with usable energy very nearly doubled, at 54 kWh). For season 5, which runs in 2018 and 2019, the supplier must also demonstrate that the pack can be fully charged in 45 minutes or less. Lucid’s contract is contingent on several certifications yet to come, as well as a battery crash test by June 2017.

Actual data—and showing that its packs are up to the torture and extreme regenerative-braking rates necessary to make it through the race—is what won Lucid the FIA contract, according to the company. So did its ability to use simulations. “People don’t often associate data science with car companies, but we have a team of data scientists who gather battery and powertrain data to really do a deep dive, to do this analysis and prevent failures from happening and optimize performance,” said the company’s director of battery technology, Albert Liu. “Batteries are very complex devices, and to have that data from out in the field is a gold mine.”

The physical battery packs will remain Lucid property, and the company will have access to the series data, but the FIA has to be made aware of all the data the company is using.

The rigors of Formula E usage also will serve as a proving ground for Lucid’s custom architecture for battery cooling. The company not so subtly points to crosstown rival Tesla as an example of performance claims that only deliver under specific conditions. It has already designed intercell cooling around repeat acceleration runs, with its Edna test mule – the quickest van this editor had ever been in, as it covers zero to 60 mph in a claimed 2.9s and boasts twin motors/inverters and 1200hp – aiming to provide acceleration performance numbers that are reproducible not just in close succession but across the battery’s state of charge. And designing a pack that’s ready for potential 350kW fast-charging parallels some of the cooling requirements for racing-level brake-energy recovery.

So it appears the next generation of Formula E car will be powered by Air. We’re not sorry at all for that pun.

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