Feds to aid GE’s battery design work

In three years, General Electric researchers expect to have developed an ultra-thin film sensor that

In three years, General Electric researchers expect to have developed an ultra-thin film sensor that extends the life of today’s electric car battery by 20 percent.

The technology will be crafted inside GE’s Global Research headquarters in Niskayuna with the help of a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“This is about extending the life of a battery so you’ll get more wear out of it,” said GE spokesman Todd Alhart. “If it lasts longer, that helps bring down the cost of an electric vehicle.”

On Thursday, the Energy Department announced a total of $43 million in funding for 19 new projects — including GE’s thin-film sensors — that will focus on developing breakthrough technology in energy storage.

It was in GE’s interest to apply for the grant earlier this year, Alhart said, since it sells sensors to major players in the automotive industry.

But as one of more than a dozen institutions committed to improving battery management and storage with the latest round of funds, GE is part of a nationwide effort to enhance the electrical grid and revolutionize the way Americans store and use energy in electric vehicles.

“We’ve got deep expertise and experience in sensors research and materials research,” Alhart said.

With a total $3,128,285, GE researchers are looking to develop a temperature sensor system, in addition to the ultra-thin strain that will map temperature and surface pressure in real-time for each cell within a battery pack.

The miniature sensors will provide higher resolution compared to today’s thermal sensors, according to a project description on the Department of Energy website. Improving internal battery measurement capabilities ultimately results in a lower cost for electric vehicles.

“We can basically put [sensors] in places on the battery they haven’t been able to reach before,” Alhart said. “This allows us to take more measurements and gather more data about the battery’s health. The other piece is developing algorithms that analyze that data and improve how the battery is managed.”

It will be a battery with brains, as Alhert puts it.

Research and development in the field was spurred by demand in the late 1990s for longer battery life in cell phones and laptops. And scientists are aware that many technologies still have to be developed before electric vehicles can become mainstream.

Improved battery life is just one part of the overall push, though.

The other research institutions to receive federal grants will be developing technologies for both plug-in electric and hybrid electric vehicles that range from new fiber optic sensors, high-precision battery testing devices, temperature regulations for lithium-ion cells and gas monitoring systems that provide early warning signals for premature battery failure.

Federal officials announced the selected projects Thursday at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event in Washington, D.C., titled “New Age of Discovery: Government’s Role in Transformative Innovation.”

In a Thursday news release, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu described the projects as having the potential to improve energy access for the U.S. military at “forward operating bases in remote areas.”

“These cutting-edge projects could transform our energy infrastructure, dramatically reduce our reliance on imported oil and increase American energy security,” he said.

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