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Electric car battery comes with built-in 'brain'

Posted: 04 Dec 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:electric car  modular battery system  intelligent cell 

Researchers at Fraunhofer have developed an energy storage device for electric cars that it claims is more cost-effective over the entire life cycle compared with previous models. What is unique about this innovation is the option to replace a defective battery cell. In the past, the entire battery had to be changed.

The core of electric cars are their batteries. So far, these have been monolithic blocks in which the individual battery cells as well as the necessary technology have been housed. All individual cells should theoretically be able to save the same amount of energy. In practice, though, this is somewhat different: Due to production reasons, their capacities vary. This is problematic, since the cells are connected in series. The entire battery is therefore only as strong as its weakest cell. If this cell is "empty," the remaining energy in the other battery cells does not help—the car has to be recharged.

For that reason, manufacturers presort and install cells of a similar capacity into a battery. Since some cells are sorted out as a result of this process, and this pushes the price of the batteries up. Another shortcoming is that when a cell is defective, the vehicle stops functioning. That means that the entire energy storage device has to be replaced.

Independent battery cells communicate with each other

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart have now created an alternative. "Our modular battery system solves these problems," says Dr Kai Pfeiffer, group manager at the IPA.

Intelligent cell

Intelligent cell of the Fraunhofer IPA: A microcontroller records physical parameters such as temperature and state of charge. If a cell is empty, it switches itself off automatically. (Source: Fraunhofer IPA)

The trick: each battery cell has its own built-in microcontroller that records relevant physical parameters, such as the temperature and the state of charge of the cell. As a result, each cell knows what condition it is in. The cells "talk" to each other via the existing power wiring between battery cells. This is known as power-line communication. They can also communicate with other devices, such as the on-board computer, which uses the data from the cells to calculate how much remaining energy the entire battery still has, the so called state of charge.

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