SAE standards bring order to EV battery world

  • 23-Aug-2010 01:37 EDT
energy battery pouch cells.jpg

This 1.7-KW module from Magna E-Car is of a lithium-based chemistry.

As electric vehicles of various types begin to appear in greater numbers over the coming years, danger to drivers, first-responders, mechanics, and others will grow right along.

SAE International is trying to limit the potential for danger by developing standards that cover everything from the design to the recycling of large advanced-technology batteries used in what for this article are called electric vehicles (EVs) but which include pure EVs and hybrid-electrics of different kinds. Battery standards are useful for several reasons, but safety is paramount.

There is urgency because “we have a lot of smaller companies out there that don’t know what they’re doing, with no professional guidance in the form of standards,” said Robert Galyen, Chair of SAE’s Battery Standards Committee and General Manager of the Battery and Materials Testing Group in the newly formed E-Car group at Magna.

Unfortunately, Galyen said, there inevitably will be instances of personal injury and perhaps death because so many small companies are rushing their EVs to market. In response, “we’re running as fast as we can to develop these standards by assisting industry professionals in designing safe vehicles for the general consumer.”

Besides the safety benefits to consumers and others who interface with EVs and EV batteries, “we think the documents we’re writing could help protect the integrity of the professional community” by insulating those who follow the standard from those who do not.

Another motive for developing standards is to reduce costs across “the entire food chain,” Galyen said. “Standardization helps drive costs down because it allows multiple battery manufacturers to make products of a similar form factor and rating so that vehicle manufacturers can produce lower-cost product, and that lower cost can be passed on to the consumer.”

The standards also will make it easier for automakers to evaluate one supplier’s batteries against another’s, Galyen said.

Expectations of safer and lower-cost products apply not only to cars but also to trucks of all sizes. Standards are being developed to apply to the off-highway, aerospace, and marine industries as well.

SAE created the Battery Standards Committee in November in response to the fact that “emerging battery technologies are creating a new paradigm in the areas of materials, safety, performance, manufacturability, and shipping/transportation,” Galyen said. The organization already had in place many battery-related standards, which until then were under the domain of different SAE committees. “We wanted to get all battery standards under the same roof, so we could cover both cranking and traction applications,” said Galyen.

The work of developing new standards and updating existing ones has been taken on by about 140 volunteer engineers or other professionals from about 80 companies. The Battery Standards Committee has grown faster than any ever at SAE, according to Galyen, and currently is its largest. Each of 10 task forces is or will be working to develop a new standard. Some will be updating outdated standards as well, including several that were authored primarily by Galyen.

The Battery Safety task force is moving at “warp speed” to complete J2929 – Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Propulsion Battery System Safety Standard, which is of “utmost importance,” said Galyen. The hope is that the standard will be put out for ballot by year’s end and published soon after. The others will follow, but there is no precise timeline, according to SAE.

Galyen noted that “it took the lead-acid industry decades before Battery Council International began creating group sizes for vehicles, and I see the same trend happening. History will repeat itself if we don't take immediate action. That’s why we’re here.” For now, automakers are using batteries and battery packs of different dimensions. Galyen hopes it will not take as long to standardize on dimensions this time around.

Regarding chemical composition of batteries, SAE is neutral, he added.

Another standard of high priority is J1798 - Recommended Practice for Performance Rating of Electric Vehicle Battery Modules. This is the document that will help automakers better determine which batteries are most suited to specific applications. Since J1798 is still under revision by the Battery Testing task force, the only publicly available portion of the revised document is the Scope: “This SAE Recommended Practice provides for common test and verification methods to determine electric vehicle battery module performance. The document creates the necessary performance standards to determine (a) what the basic performance of EV battery modules is; and (b) whether battery modules meet minimum performance specification established by vehicle manufacturers or other purchasers. Specific values for these minimum performance specifications are not a part of this document.”

Other standards at the work-in-progress stage include:

J2758 - Determination of the Maximum Available Power from a Rechargeable Energy Storage System on a Hybrid Electric Vehicle

J2936 - Vehicle Battery Labeling Guidelines

J2946 - Battery Electronic Fuel Gauging Recommended Practices

J2950 - Recommended Practices (RP) for Transportation and Handling of Automotive-type Rechargeable Energy Storage Systems (RESS).

J537 - Storage Batteries

Galyen takes his responsibility as committee chair seriously and expects the same of committee members. He said: “I want to write these recommended practices so if your wife, children, grandchildren, or other relatives are in a car that was built around the standards that we create, they are totally safe and we don’t lose any sleep over what we’ve done. I’ve tried to emphasize to the members that this is real life. People’s lives and livelihoods depend upon our expertise as a group of industry professionals to write these standards correctly.”

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