New technology risks over-regulation – Annika Tidblad on the legal requirements for electric vehicles

Thursday, June 7, 2018

“When working with a technology area under development you need to be careful not to make mandatory requirements limiting for the technology, and locking technology into existing solutions.”

Annika Tidblad at Volvo Cars is the battery specialist who has become one of Sweden’s leading technical experts on standardization and legal requirements for electric vehicles. Within Swedish Electromobility Centre, she contributes both with her competencies and her networks. In September, a meeting for the United Nations electric vehicle safety group will be hosted by the Centre.

Annika, tell us about your special competence and your way here?

“I am foremost an expert in battery technology and its use in various types of applications; from cell chemistry and materials to application requirements and usage perspectives. I work on standardization work within the SIS and various ISO groups, but even more with regulatory issues.”

 

“The road here has been quite long but determined. After 10 years as a researcher in applied electrochemistry and corrosion theory at KTH, I started working for a company in Järfalla, who was then the world leader in independent battery testing and battery usage guidance. It was eventually sold to Intertek. I was there for 11 years and worked partly with testing issues – standardized tests, but also developing tailor-made testing programs for different applications that lacked standards for a wide range of applications: portable electronics, medical technology, different types of vehicles, telecom, and so on. In order to understand how and what is interesting to test, I had to get into what different applications required in terms of electrical performance, climate and environmental resistance, maintenance and cost perspective, and more. The more I learned, the more obvious it became just how much test methodology and requirements control the product development and the direction of the resulting technical solutions.”

“In parallel, I worked as a quality manager for the company’s accredited battery testing and as a technical assessor of corrosion labs for SWEDAC, which meant that I spent more and more time interpreting and understanding the background to different standards and systematic working methods. Thereafter, the step was not far to slip into the area of legal requirements, which is both about asking relevant requirements for different characteristics, but also for establishing fair methods for verifying compliance with the requirements. When working with a technology area under development you need to be careful not to make mandatory requirements limiting for the technology, and locking technology into existing solutions. This requires long-term consistency thinking and ability to explain and defend complex technical connections for non-experts and government agencies with several different agendas. I like the challenge because it forces me to use many different skills besides the purely technical factual skills, such as pedagogy, rhetoric, psychology, politics…”

“I’m probably quite unique in my career, not only in Sweden, because there are not so many “tech nerds” dealing with legal requirements and lobbying, and I feel that my knowledge is highly valued by both the international automotive industry and several agencies around in the world.”

What are the major issues and challenges?

“For electric vehicles, there is a lot of focus on electrical and battery safety as well as electrical performance characteristics. The absolute biggest challenge is to secure a sensible development atmosphere for battery technology and associated systems for electric vehicles. There is a high risk of locking the technology at the existing level, therefore obstructing or preventing further development of battery technology with higher energy density than today.”

Where do you see the need for more research?

“I think the research done today needs to be complemented with more systematic issues, for example, to demonstrate that battery technology is safe and that incidents can be detected and prevented in time, before catastrophic accidents with high potential damage occur.”

“In addition, I would like to see a broader approach to the “State of Health” in order to prevent unnecessary aging and wear of battery systems, with better diagnostics and understanding of what drives different types of degenerative processes.”

Annika Tidblad discusses with participants in a workshop on battery safety with Swedish Electromobility Centre at KTH in May 2018.

 

How is Sweden doing in an international perspective?

“My feeling is that we are good at both research and product development. We have a long tradition of conscious, systematic work with safety and quality. There is also great openness for different types of solutions, not least at the technical systems level, which I think is absolutely crucial in order to enable development towards increasingly more energy and power dense battery systems.”

In September, the Swedish Electromobility Center will host a “UN meeting”. What is it about – and how come the meeting ended up here?

“It is a working group meeting within the framework of the UN vehicle regulatory body. I have been active in the informal working group for Electric Vehicle Safety for many years now, and leads certain issues on behalf of the industry. At the moment, especially those relating to thermal runaway and propagation. I was previously appointed spokesperson for the heavy (vehicle) side of the working group. The meetings circulate between different participating countries. Given that we from Sweden have a strong presence and great impact in the working group for our knowledge and experience, it was great to invite the group to Sweden. I contacted the Swedish Energy Agency about three years ago, and thanks to their support it has become possible.”

Which questions will be discussed?

“Legal requirements for electrical vehicle safety: electrical safety and battery safety. This is phase 2 of the development of the Global Technical Regulations (GTR), which then provides the basis for harmonization of legal requirements among member states and regions. The result will be noted in the UN ECE R100 et al, but also in other related legal requirements. Already a revision of R100-02 is underway with regard to new requirements developed in Phase 1, which are documented in GTR 20, published this year.”

What do you hope to achieve?

“We want balanced and fair requirements and associated verification methods, and that they are harmonized in all major international markets. Particularly important at the moment is vibration resistance, thermal runaway and propagation, water resistance, and requirements on the interface between charger and battery. New technology is often perceived as much more dangerous than existing, and it can easily lead to over-regulation, thereby discriminating new technologies. We hope to prevent this.”