How sensors and analytics can boost battery life


While commercial scale battery manufacturing might be struggling in the U.S., innovation is actually alive and well here, and turns out new battery technology is not always about new chemicals or separators or architecture. Sometimes good ol’ information technology can help out, too.

GE, Ford and the University of Michigan are working on developing a tiny sensor system for a battery that when combined with analytics can extend the range of a battery in an electric vehicle. There are already sensors on the market that are trying to do something similar, but current sensors are too big to be able to fit in certain areas of the battery, says GE. GE will develop the wee system and pair it with real-time modelling of a battery’s behavior.

Such a system, which the group recently won a $3.1 million grant from the Department of Energy to build, could provide a substantial boost to electric car batteries. The range of a car battery — which is also chiefly tied to its cost — is the biggest problem for electric cars today. One hundred miles is about the average of the current electric cars on the market. The team has three years to create the first working version.

Sophisticated battery management system technology — which uses software in a car or on the power grid or on a cell phone — can help use batteries efficiently. Electric car companies Coda and Tesla Motors (s TSLA) tout their battery management systems as some of their more important intellectual property. Other startups like GELI want to create a sort of operating system for batteries for the power grid.

Then there’s a startup like Pellion, which is using computer modelling to test out 10,000 potential cathode materials to fit with its magnesium anode for its battery. Basically they’re using a computer as a really smart brain to figure out the battery chemistry problem.

Because battery chemistry is such a hard problem, it’s pretty natural that we’re turning to the power of analytics, big data, cloud computing and all those other fun IT buzz words to solve it.


Gary Duerr

Isn’t there a need for supplemental batteries that one could get in a filling station like environment to extend the range of a standing battery? Range is a problem. Everyone doesn’t have a practical way to charge their car, or own property on which to put a charger.
Won’t this help us get over the hump as we work on the problem without totally changing the infra-structure or putting in expensive fast charging stations?
That would require cars to be built that have a standardized easily changable battery scheme so batteries can be stocked, charged, & changed in a real world environment, no matter what company manufactured the vehicle.

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