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Predicting Electric-Car Battery Life: GE, Ford, U of Michigan Team Up

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2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

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Because the gasoline car has been in continual production and development for over 100 years, automakers can use past experience to estimate how long cars -- and their engines -- will last.

But because the development of the modern electric car is still in its infancy, automakers are still struggling to predict how long an electric car battery pack will last in the real-world, putting many consumers off buying an electric car just yet.

Which is why GE, along with Ford and the University of Michigan, is working on a system which will ultimately help automakers improve real-time battery analysis and lifespan predictions for plug-in cars.

The project has received $3.1 million of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy under its Advanced Research Project Agency: Energy (ARPA-E) program, and is expected to last three years.

According to its official press release, GE is already developing an extremely thin battery sensor which it says will be capable of much more detailed monitoring of electric car battery packs. 

A123 Systems Employees Perform Quality Check on a Lithium-Ion Battery Pack [source: A123 Systems]

A123 Systems Employees Perform Quality Check on a Lithium-Ion Battery Pack [source: A123 Systems]

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Smaller than existing sensors, GE says the new sensors will be fitted in places that current battery sensors cannot, allowing a more intimate and realistic collection of real-time battery data, such as individual cell temperature, voltage and instantaneous power drain.

This data will then be analyzed by researchers at the University of Michigan, who,  in turn, will use the data to program more sophisticated battery analytics systems.

The ultimate goal? To develop battery management systems that can both help extend battery life and provide the driver with a more realistic expectation of range and battery capacity with time. 

“Ensuring a battery’s health over many cycles requires taking frequent snapshots of its condition as it ages,” said Charles Monroe, a chemical engineering professor from the University of Michigan. 

Lithium-ion battery pack of 2011 Nissan Leaf, showing cells assembled into modules

Lithium-ion battery pack of 2011 Nissan Leaf, showing cells assembled into modules

“Control systems on cars have to be able to use this vast amount of data quickly and efficiently. Information provided by advanced sensors will allow us to create and verify finely resolved physical models to underpin battery management schemes,” he continued. “The big challenge is to make battery management programs adapt and work fast.”

Once developed, the improved battery management system will be placed into a Ford Focus Electric, where it will undergo extensive validation under the watchful eye of Ford engineers. 

While the research project is still three years from completion, its findings should prove extremely useful to the electric car industry, as well as help reduce range anxiety and battery life concerns among future electric car buyers. 

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Comments (2)
  1. so the Focus EV is an experiment? that would explain its anemic production #'s
     
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  2. I can see this as a good engineering instrument; but, really all we need is less-expensive batteries with better performance. Right now, batteries are at a premium price. So, in the future, it goes something like this...as your battery loses bars; you have a after market company replace any bad cells and re-install the battery; or, have the company replace the battery with an updated battery.
     
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