Control Engineers: The Unsung Heroes of Battery Technology


The 25th anniversary of the commercialization of lithium-ion batteries marks their wide-spread use in handheld consumer electronics and coincides with a period of intense efforts for powering electric vehicles. Managing the potent brew of lithium ions in the large quantities necessary for vehicle propulsion is anything but straightforward. Designing the complex conductive structure, choosing the electrode material for locking the energy in high potential states and synthesizing the interfaces for releasing the chemical energy at fast but controllable rates has been the focus of the electrochemists and material scientists. But from the Rosetta-Philae spacecraft landing three billion miles away from Earth to the daily commute of a hybrid electric automobile, the control engineers behind the battery management system (BMS) have been the unsung heroes. The BMS is the brain of the battery system and is responsible for State of Charge (SOC), State of Health (SOH) and State of Power (SOP) estimation while protecting the cell by limiting its power. The BMS relies on accurate prediction of complex electrochemical, thermal and mechanical phenomena. This raises the question of model and parameter accuracy. Moreover, if the cells are aging, which parameters should we adapt after leveraging limited sensor information from the measured terminal voltage and sparse surface temperatures? With such a frugal sensor set, what is the optimal sensor placement? To this end, control techniques and novel sensors that measure the cell swelling during lithium intercalation and thermal expansion will be presented. We will conclude by highlighting the fundamental difficulties that keep every battery control engineer awake, namely predicting local hot spots, detecting internal shorts, and managing the overwhelming energy released during a thermal runaway. 

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Thu, Dec 14th, 2017