The US Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has reportedly bought two fireproof chemical storage containers that allow lithium-ion batteries to be tested under extreme temperature conditions.
Local medial said INL tests experimental batteries including those from Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Electric vehicles (EVs) batteries used in Chevrolet are likely to be tested in new containers in next year, according to reports.
The containers allow INL to test experimental, fast-charging lithium-ion batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles as well as ultracapacitors and other electronics.
The test facility provides 17,500 square feet of laboratory space equipped with tools that allow testing of several hundred batteries at the same time, ranging from small cells to full-sized battery packs used in current light-duty vehicles.
Batteries are tested inside two thermal chambers to ensure consistent and repeatable temperature conditions. The thermal chambers are capable of a wide range of temperatures, from -65°C to 190°C for enhanced testing and modelling capability.
INL has a vibration test station to test experimental electric car batteries to simulate driving conditions.
Kev Adjemian, the director at INL’s Clean Energy and Transportation Division , said the fastest 480V EV’s battery charger took about 30 minutes to fully charge. However, automotive manufacturers are trying to reduce the charging time to five or 10 minutes.
Adjemian said experimental energy-dense batteries capable of such charging speeds are more fire-prone and more likely to release volatile fumes, which is why storage units are necessary for testing.
“They give the (US) Department of Energy (DOE) a location to do these types of tests without burning a lab or a whole building down,” Adjemian said. “We’re trying to test these extreme conditions in a safe environment.”
The rectangular shaped containers, which are traditionally used in other industries such as waste management and food manufacturing, for the storage of hazardous chemicals and materials, can withstand fire for four hours.
Adjemian said: “Can the battery and vehicle withstand such high levels of charging? Over time, what are the possible failure mechanisms?” “We start with the developer to work on potential countermeasures to solve particular problems.”
The test results will allow INL researchers to work with industry or lab partners to eliminate vulnerabilities.
Though new battery chemistries and manufacturing ideas pop up often, a battery takes around 20 years to develop from the “beaker to the dealership,” Adjemian said, during which time it would likely stop in Idaho.
“The reality is every week some professor is saying ‘I invented this thing that will solve everything’,” Adjemian said. “But the DOE doesn’t necessarily believe it until Idaho tests it.”