Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Building Better Batteries for Cars and Spacecraft

This dime-sized coin made of aluminum and copper is used to induce short circuits in lithium-ion batteries. The ability to induce shorts on demand is crucial to finding out how hot a battery can get when it fails while in active use.  Credit: Pat Corkery
This dime-sized coin made of aluminum and copper is used to induce short circuits in lithium-ion batteries. The ability to induce shorts on demand is crucial to finding out how hot a battery can get when it fails while in active use. Credit: Pat Corkery

Abstract:
The NASA engineer responsible for the batteries needed for spacewalks now is working at the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory to help design safer lithium-ion battery packs for sky walkers and automobile drivers alike.

By Bill Scanlon

Building Better Batteries for Cars and Spacecraft

Golden, CO | Posted on July 8th, 2010

"We at NASA share the same challenges that DOE and NREL have in developing batteries for cars," said Eric Darcy, the battery group leader at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Johnson Space Center.

Whether it's "manned space travel or manned automobiles," the hurdles are the same, Darcy said. "Designing a safe, very large and lightweight battery pack for the confined space of manned vehicles is challenging."

In the future, battery-powered automobiles are expected to grab a big share of the market away from gasoline-fueled vehicles.

Lithium ion batteries are the technology of choice because of their high energy and power densities, Ahmad Pesaran, Energy Storage Group Leader at NREL, said. But the batteries must be able to withstand abuses that could lead to thermal runaway and potentially fire.

Thermal runaway can happen when an increase in temperature changes conditions in a way that leads to a further increase in temperature, a kind of feedback that can lead to catastrophe. The increase in temperature leads to an increase in the reaction rate, which leads to further increases in temperature. The disastrous release of methyl isocyanate gas from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984, was precipitated by a thermal runaway.

Researchers in NREL's Energy Storage Group are modeling and testing how well the risk of catastrophic thermal runaway can be mitigated in lithium-ion cell/battery designs. "We're privileged to have Eric working with us for nine months," Pesaran said.

NREL researchers expect the partnership to help them design next-generation battery packs for cars. Darcy's contributions are helping NREL's integrated network model to analyze the qualities of multi-cell battery pack systems and observe their responses to stress, NREL engineer Gi-Heon Kim said. "These kinds of model tools are crucial for car industries to properly perform thermal and safety assessment of their battery pack designs."

Inducing Shorts on Demand

NREL and NASA engineers have invented specially designed small "coins" made of primarily aluminum and copper, that when implanted into lithium ion cells will induce an internal short circuit on demand. The ability to accurately replicate internal shorts in battery cells is crucial to finding out how hot a battery can get when one of its cells fails because of a rare manufacturing defect. Those defects happen only about one time in 1 million in the field, but because of their catastrophic consequences, NASA and NREL need to lengthen those odds if lithium-ion batteries are to become the workhorses of space walks and automobile transportation.

Darcy brings 23 years of experience in putting together batteries for manned spacecraft. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program, and the uncertainty of when a replacement will be available, NASA needs a new-generation, longer life spacesuit battery pack that will support dozens of walks based from the Space Station.

"Eric brings the perspective and broad experience base of the aerospace industry," says NREL researcher Kandler Smith. The aerospace industry doesn't share the same cost constraints of the automotive industry, "but the processes employed for battery risk assessment and design for reliability are directly applicable."

NREL researchers have characterized the conditions under which an internal short circuit in a spacesuit battery can lead to a thermal runaway, which can cause a catastrophic explosion.

"Knowing the vulnerabilities of that battery is useful to find a way to mitigate the risks," Smith said.

Safer Spacesuit Battery under Development

NASA has been developing a new spacesuit battery for three years, preparing for the time when the current short wet life battery packs of the shuttle-to-space-station era would require replacement.

"We now need at minimum, a five-year battery, and with that comes a whole new chemistry, lithium-ion," Darcy said.

"That carries with it the risk of it rupture and fire," Darcy added. "That's why we've teamed with NREL to characterize the small range of conditions under which this battery can go into thermal runaway." The Interagency Government Agreement between NASA and NREL was signed in 2008.

The battery under study contains 80 laptop-sized lithium-ion cells, weighs about 15 pounds, and is about 11 inches long, four inches wide and five inches deep. Laptop batteries can last three years if they're treated kindly, albeit they usually aren't, since most of the time they are kept fully charged and operate at high temperatures inside the cramped internal space of a laptop.

The new spacesuit battery will rest inside the backpack on the spacesuit, which packs a lot of thermal insulation, preventing it from getting very cold or very hot. So, even though it will be in the forbidding climes of outer space, it will experience less stress than a battery constantly being charged and discharged on planet Earth.

Designed to Last for 50 Space Walks

The battery is designed to endure some 50 multi-hour space walks over its five year life, although typically it would be taken out for about half that many walks.

The lithium-ion battery will power all the life-support systems in the space suit, powering the fans that circulate the air, powering the heat exchanger, the pumps that circulate water through the suit.

Suits will accompany the astronauts on the transfer to the space station, while others will be parked permanently at the station, for the times when the astronauts have to take a walk when there's no shuttle spacecraft around.

NASA is planning more lower-orbit satellites to observe the Earth for climate-change data. The space station is going to be crucial for those close-Earth observations, and that means safe, long-lasting spacesuit batteries will be crucial, too.

Auditing Performance of Lithium-ion Batteries

NASA needs to learn all it can about lithium-ion batteries because the nickel-hydrogen batteries now in use will expire in 2017.

"We're performing audits on the cell production lines" of the lithium-ion batteries, Darcy said.

Tiny latent defects imbedded in cells can be missed if testing isn't done under the strictest conditions. Those defects could cause an internal short circuit and a catastrophic event.

Internal short circuits are rare, but not unheard of. "You hear about these one-in-a-million recalls, when a laptop or a cell phone's battery defect causes it to go into flames," Darcy said.

Early this month, Darcy and Smith audited a lithium-ion manufacturing process. "They had some good processes and some weaknesses," Darcy said. "We made a long list of all those actions they ought to consider correcting to produce a better, safer product."

The lessons learned at the audits can be used by NREL to conduct similar audits on automobile battery manufacturers, Darcy said.

"It's important that they do so, because if an incident occurred on a car battery, it would be a cancer to everyone who uses lithium-ion batteries," Darcy said. "Is mine going to have that same effect?

"They need to know why or why not. What measures can they take to minimize the risk of some kind of internal short inside the cell that can make it blow up?"

Darcy Chose NREL as a NASA Innovative Ambassador

Darcy, a chemical engineer, was one of four NASA employees accepted into the space program's Innovative Ambassador program, allowing him to spend up to a year at another organization.

He chose NREL for its "unique capabilities in the field of batteries. " He started at NREL in January and will return to Houston in October.

Darcy has plenty of experience abusing batteries, subjecting them to worst-case conditions, while his new NREL colleagues have ample experience in using mathematical models to predict how they behave when abused.

"That's the mutual benefit of sharing our information," Darcy said. "I can help ground some of the models that NREL is producing. NREL can help me learn how to use the models so I can reduce the development time to a safe and effective design solution.

"I'll come back to NASA a better battery engineer because of what I'm learning at NREL in the areas of simulating battery behavior under abuse conditions," he said.

Learn more about NREL battery research at www.nrel.gov/vehiclesandfuels/energystorage/


####

About National Renewable Energy Laboratory
NREL is the only federal laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Backed by 32 years of achievement, NREL leads the way in helping meet the growing demand for clean energy.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Media may contact:
Heather Lammers
303-275-4084

Copyright © National Renewable Energy Laboratory

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Silk could improve sensitivity, flexibility of wearable body sensors August 20th, 2017

The power of perovskite: OIST researchers improve perovskite-based technology in the entire energy cycle, from solar cells harnessing power to LED diodes to light the screens of future electronic devices and other lighting applications August 18th, 2017

Gold nanostars and immunotherapy vaccinate mice against cancer: New treatment cures, vaccinates mouse in small proof-of-concept study August 18th, 2017

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet August 17th, 2017

Announcements

Silk could improve sensitivity, flexibility of wearable body sensors August 20th, 2017

The power of perovskite: OIST researchers improve perovskite-based technology in the entire energy cycle, from solar cells harnessing power to LED diodes to light the screens of future electronic devices and other lighting applications August 18th, 2017

Gold nanostars and immunotherapy vaccinate mice against cancer: New treatment cures, vaccinates mouse in small proof-of-concept study August 18th, 2017

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet August 17th, 2017

Energy

The power of perovskite: OIST researchers improve perovskite-based technology in the entire energy cycle, from solar cells harnessing power to LED diodes to light the screens of future electronic devices and other lighting applications August 18th, 2017

Freeze-dried foam soaks up carbon dioxide: Rice University scientists lead effort to make novel 3-D material August 16th, 2017

Two Scientists Receive Grants to Develop New Materials: Chad Mirkin and Monica Olvera de la Cruz recognized by Sherman Fairchild Foundation August 16th, 2017

Fewer defects from a 2-D approach August 15th, 2017

Automotive/Transportation

2-faced 2-D material is a first at Rice: Rice University materials scientists create flat sandwich of sulfur, molybdenum and selenium August 14th, 2017

Engineers pioneer platinum shell formation process – and achieve first-ever observation August 11th, 2017

GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Silicon Mobility Deliver the Industry’s First Automotive FPCU to Boost Performance for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles: Silicon Mobility and GF’s 55nm LPx -enabled platform, with SST’s highly-reliable SuperFlash® memory technology, boosts automotive performance, ene August 3rd, 2017

Rice U. scientists map ways forward for lithium-ion batteries for extreme environments: Paper details developments toward high-temperature batteries July 27th, 2017

Aerospace/Space

The July 23 close fly-by of asteroid 2017 BS5 is explored in a Q&A with Dr. John S. Lewis, chief scientist at Deep Space Industries July 23rd, 2017

National Space Society Governor Scott Pace Named to National Space Council as Executive Secretary July 18th, 2017

National Space Society Supports VP Pence's Call for Constant Low-Earth Orbit Human Presence Leading to the Settlement of Space July 13th, 2017

Thinking thin brings new layering and thermal abilities to the semiconductor industry: In a breakthrough for the semiconductor industry, researchers demonstrate a new layer transfer technique called "controlled spalling" that creates many thin layers from a single gallium nitride July 11th, 2017

Battery Technology/Capacitors/Generators/Piezoelectrics/Thermoelectrics/Energy storage

Candy cane supercapacitor could enable fast charging of mobile phones August 17th, 2017

Rice U. scientists map ways forward for lithium-ion batteries for extreme environments: Paper details developments toward high-temperature batteries July 27th, 2017

Regulation of two-dimensional nanomaterials: New driving force for lithium-ion batteries July 26th, 2017

Ultrathin device harvests electricity from human motion July 23rd, 2017

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project