Sandia's $4.2 M Stimulus Funds to Support Vehicle Battery Study

Sandia National Laboratories will use $4.2 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to modify and enhance its existing Battery Abuse Testing Laboratory (BATLab), with the goal of developing low-cost batteries for electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Sandia’s BATLab is internationally recognized as a leader in the field of battery testing to ensure they meet real-world performance requirements. The tests help to determine how much abuse lithium ion batteries can safely handle, including being crushed, pounded with nails and heated to boiling hot temperatures. Sandia tests everything from regular small cells about the size of a laptop computer battery up to full-sized modules and packs weighing several hundred pounds for hybrid vehicles.

The nation’s first full-scale debut of electric cars that can run up to 40 miles on a single charge is expected late next year, and Sandia has played an instrumental role in ensuring the safety and reliability of the batteries that power those vehicles. The DOE-funded FreedomCAR program turned to Sandia to investigate the possibility of safely using lithium-ion batteries, which have more power and weigh less than the nickel-metal hydride batteries currently being used in hybrid vehicles. But before lithium-ion batteries could be placed in vehicles, extensive safety tests needed to take place. With the recent stimulus funds, the BATLab will be able to greatly increase the number of tests it does.

“The equipment and facilities that we currently have allow us to do only one test at a time, so our throughput has been somewhat limited,” said Pete Roth, lead researcher for Sandia’s FreedomCAR program. “The new equipment and upgrades that we will be able to implement will enhance the amount and range of testing and diagnostics that we can do, and we expect to at least be able to double our throughput.” Those upgrades include fire suppression, improved lighting and advanced electrical systems, in addition to new software and analytical equipment to help diagnose battery responses and provide data for manufacturers.

Such improved efficiency will allow Sandia to continue to offer increasingly valuable contributions to the nation’s FreedomCAR effort. “Pete and his team are already internationally recognized for this work, and this funding will help us to sustain that leadership position into the future as auto manufacturers start to implement these lithium battery modules and packs into their vehicles,” said Tom Wunsch, manager of Sandia’s Advanced Power Sources R&D group.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, an autonomous Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

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