A hard look at batteries

  • 11-Mar-2009 03:55 EDT
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Ricardo CEO Dave Shemmans explains the operation of a highly efficient micro combined heat and power system based on a Stirling Engine to HRH The Duke of York at the opening of the Sir Harry Ricardo Innovation & Sustainable Transport Centre.

The battle for better battery technology is far from over, and one of the central challenges now is to achieve manufacturing consistency. "When you have 120 cells, each has to perform to the required level," said Neville Jackson, Group Technology Director of Ricardo. "If one goes down, it could ruin the pack. But at present, battery manufacturers struggle to get repeatable, consistent performance and quality in a volume product suitable to power electric cars."

Jackson said the problem centers on detail differences between batteries, how they are manufactured, and the chemistries involved. "There is a struggle to get repeatable, consistent performance and quality in volume production. To achieve that consistency requires large investment—and that leads to a more expensive product," he said. 

The challenge of electric cars is one of the areas being tackled at Ricardo’s newly established Battery Systems Development Center in Detroit and at the Sir Harry Ricardo Innovation & Sustainable Transport Centre, Shoreham Technical Centre, U.K., the latter of which is part of a $9 million investment by the company in the R&D of clean, sustainable transport and associated technologies. Globally, Ricardo is investing more than $40 million in a rolling three-year program at its international technical centers.

The new Detroit facility will enable the company to test and develop batteries under more arduous conditions than would be possible via in-vehicle testing. Work there will also focus on improving the effectiveness of the development cycle for new battery-based technologies, innovations, and products. The facility, said Ricardo Inc. President Dean Harlow, will be "among the industry’s most complete battery development and system integration facilities, working with a wide range of customers from cell suppliers to the Tier 1s and OEMs on battery systems for hybrid and electric vehicles.”

The Center is the focal point of Ricardo’s design, analysis, simulation, and integration of advanced high-power battery packs and their electronic management systems. Combined with the company’s expertise in the development of electronic controls, hybrid transmissions, and vehicle systems, it gives Ricardo the capability of providing fully integrated, turnkey battery systems, the company says.

But despite possible battery and electric-vehicle technology advances, Group Technology Director Jackson feels that pure-electric vehicles will be limited to city use and will not likely offer a transport solution for general use. "Those with city vehicles will probably need more than just an electric car," he said. "So the question remains: Do we have more vehicles with different utilities or an all-utility vehicle that has variable uses—and is, therefore, a compromise?"

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