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Electrical engineeringElectrical engineering Balakumar Balasingam is leading a team that aims to identify second uses for electric vehicle batteries.

Engineering researchers examine second lives for electric vehicle batteries

While electric vehicles produce zero emissions, their batteries composed of raw materials are difficult and costly to recycle.

Transportation electrification is steadily increasing across the globe and expected to add 200 million electric vehicles (EV) to the roads over the next decade.

“Batteries are becoming an important commodity in the Canadian economy; however, we still lack technical leadership on the safety, efficiency, and reliability aspects of battery applications and reuse,” says Balakumar Balasingam, an assistant professor of electrical engineering.

With an expected spike of used EV batteries at recycling facilities on the horizon, Dr. Balasingam is leading a team that aims to offer another route to their disposal.

“Even though considered irrelevant in electric vehicles, these batteries have value in other applications, such as home electrification, short-range transportation, and microgrids.”

Many “end-of-life” EV batteries still have up to 70 per cent of their capacity left, he notes. One potential pathway for used EV batteries is to repurpose them in e-bikes. Nikola Robotics Lab, one of many partners on the project, will work with the team on the design of this cost-effective solution while Bike Windsor-Essex will advocate for their adaptation.

Balasingam and co-investigator Gary Rankin are the first researchers at UWindsor to secure a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Alliance Grant Option 2, which provides additional funding to projects that justify a higher level of investment and address a societal challenge.

The $244,200 project includes industry support from Gates Corporation and the Automotive Parts Manufacturer’s Association (APMA) in addition to Nikola Labs and Bike Windsor Essex.

The multi-disciplinary team will develop techniques for fast and real-time characterization of used-batteries’ state-of-charge and state-of-health to ensure safety, efficiency and reliability during battery reuse. They will also introduce an online battery operating system (bOS) that provides real-time information and services to assist technicians and innovators with battery management.

“The proposed bOS functions similar to a healthcare system where a doctor takes blood samples and sends them to a laboratory for further diagnosis,” Balasingam says. “Similarly, a mechanic will measure and record voltage, current, and temperature samples from a battery pack, and will send them to bOS via the Internet.”

The bOS can then help the mechanic identify faulty cells in a battery pack, estimate the remaining useful life of the battery and provide updated data for optimal battery management functionalities. With the help of the APMA, the bOS will reach multiple manufacturers in Canada and around the world.

The project will also address inadequate thermal management in electric vehicles. As EV batteries age, the ability to predict their thermal behavior becomes challenging, according to Balasingam.

“The temperature of Li-ion battery packs needs to be constantly monitored and maintained to ensure safe, efficient, and reliable operation. At above average temperatures the battery is susceptible to thermal runaway, as noted by recent occurrences of electric vehicles, scooters, laptops, and smart phones spontaneously combusting.”

At below average temperatures, battery packs cannot produce enough power. Battery thermal management systems are equipped with estimation and control algorithms to forecast temperature changes and to activate cooling/heating mechanisms in a timely manner.

“We will build on our recent research to develop real-time estimation of battery thermal model parameters,” says Balasingam.

The thermal modeling research will assist Gates Corporation in developing battery thermal management products produced in Canada and generate clean energy jobs.

Balasingam leads UWindsor’s Battery Management Systems Lab. Project updates and progress will be posted on the BMS Lab website.