Engineers at GE Global Research are building a new “battery brain” that will make car batteries powering electric vehicles smarter and last “significantly” longer. The research aims to drive down EV costs and boost their range.
At the core of the system are sophisticated “ultrathin” sensors that monitor and manage battery vitals such as temperature, voltage and current. The tiny sensors fit in tight nooks inside the battery, out of reach of existing technology, and gather a rich harvest of data. It will percolate through data crunching algorithms and animate real-time modeling technology that will optimize and manage the battery and extend its life. The GE team has partnered with Ford Motor Company, which manufactures the Focus EV, and researchers at the University of Michigan to develop the sensors. Ford will test prototypes inside its EVs.
“The car battery remains the greatest barrier and most promising opportunity to bringing EVs mainstream,” said Aaron Knobloch, principal investigator and mechanical engineer at GE Global Research. “Improvements in the range, cost and life of the battery will all be needed for EVs to be competitive. With better sensors and new battery analytics, we think we can make substantial progress at increasing battery life. This, in turn, could help bring down its overall cost and the cost entitlement of buying an electric car.”
The government’s Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), which backs high-risk research that may result in spectacular breakthroughs, is helping to fund the $3.1 million project that will last for three years.
The research fits into GE’s advance into the “Industrial Internet,” a global network where pieces of next-generation industrial equipment, including batteries, generate and exchange volumes of data about their condition and operation, much like personal computers and servers communicate over the web. GE is already using sensors and algorithms to collect and analyze data, and use it to create more “intelligent” devices and systems that improve performance for the customer.
GE has been working on other technology that makes hybrids, EVs, and alternative fuel vehicles more efficient. Just last month, GE engineers started developing a speedy and cheap CNG refueling station for the home. They also built a new electric traction motor that is substantially more powerful than what is commercially available now, and also improves fuel efficiency by up to 5 percent.
In Focus: Ultrathin smart sensors and new battery analytics will put fresh muscle inside EVs.