Maximizing the Lifetime and Usefulness of Lithium-ion Batteries – AI Monitoring Technologies that Support Batteries Extended Service Life
2023/01/13 Toshiba Clip Team
- Improving the efficiency and service life of battery systems is essential for effective use of renewable energy.
- An-easy-to-understand explanation of service life monitoring technologies for rechargeable batteries.
- Like tailor-made insurance service, utilization of data is the key to capture rechargeable battery market.
The Glasgow Climate Accord was adopted at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Glasgow in the UK. The accord incorporated efforts to limit the increase in global average temperatures by 2100 to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. The most realistic way to achieve this is by advancing the transition to renewable energy sources.
Although renewable energy is sustainable, the amount of electricity that it generates is easily affected by natural conditions, so in order to ensure a stable supply of electricity, there is a need to adjust supply and demand by moving electricity in and out of rechargeable batteries. So how can we improve the efficiency and service life of battery systems to expand the roll-out of renewable energy and help it take root as public infrastructure? We spoke with Takahiro Yamamoto from the System AI Laboratory at Toshiba’s Corporate Research & Development Center, who is developing technology for monitoring battery systems.
COP26 Glasgow Climate Accord boosts demand for renewable energy and rechargeable batteries
“Rechargeable batteries used for electrical power and other public infrastructure can’t be thought of in the same way as something like a smartphone, where you can say ‘Well, the battery didn’t last a day, but never mind.’” Yamamoto explains.
Renewable energy is essential for achieving carbon neutrality, and rechargeable batteries will play an essential role in its widespread adoption. However, if they are not used properly, they will be discarded when they degrade, replacements will be manufactured and once again consumed, leading to an ever-increasing burden on the global environment.
“Renewable energy output is subject to large fluctuations due to weather conditions,” says Yamamoto. “When the supply and demand balance fluctuates in this way, current frequencies changes, and if that electricity is fed into the grid it will cause instability. It is important to have battery systems that adjust and stabilize the grid by feeding power in and out. However, production and installation of rechargeable batteries costs a lot of money, which has slowed the progress of their wider use. The ideal now is to inspect and maintain battery systems properly once they are installed, and to use batteries throughout their service life to the end, and keep costs down.
There are also a number of other challenges that need to be addressed, including methods of waste disposal and difficulties in procuring the lithium and other resources needed to produce the batteries. As Yamamoto explains, to overcome these challenges and accelerate the use of renewable energy, it is extremely important to maintain and inspect batteries to improve their efficiency and service life as a system. Maintenance and inspection sounds like a simple task, but it is a very delicate and complex process that requires a high level of technical expertise.
Rechargeable battery monitoring technology improves the efficiency and service life of battery systems
Toshiba is working on various battery systems that use SCiB™, a high performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery. It is also developing a number of monitoring technologies to detect degradation and malfunctions in rechargeable batteries. This is because monitoring allows the rechargeable batteries to be used to the full, for their entire service life, and maximizes the value of battery systems.
Monitoring battery systems requires the selection and combination of appropriate methods of assessment, in accordance with the measurement time available and the accuracy of the required measurements. For this reason, Toshiba has developed multiple monitoring technologies for all kinds of situations, and uses the state of health index (SoH) to evaluate the status of a battery’s capacity and internal resistance. Yamamoto explains the significance of SoH:
“Battery systems are built by combining a large number of battery cells in battery modules, and installing the modules in the system’s housing. Although we cannot extend each individual battery’s service life beyond the specification, but if we check the SoH of the overall system and find locally damaged components that need maintenance and inspection, we can take action before a particular battery module degrades too much, resulting in efficient use and a longer service life for the battery system as a whole.”
SoH evaluation is also the focus of interest in the reuse of rechargeable batteries, and companies in Japan’s automotive industry are keen to develop the technology. In the US, many startups are in the business of repurposing used automotive batteries as rechargeable batteries for power companies. In light of this situation, more than 100 companies and organizations, including Ford and Denso, are now in the process of establishing a “degradation monitoring index,” a standard for calculating the value of automotive batteries when they are reused.
Should battery system monitoring be an annual physical checkup or daily health management?
As a producer of battery systems, Toshiba also has various SoH estimation technologies. Of these, the Voltage Deviation Method, which Yamamoto works on, is particularly well-suited to evaluating the SoH of the battery systems used in electric power grids. The advantage of this method is that even when a large number of battery cells are combined in a system, each battery module can be evaluated individually.
Yamamoto explains how it differs from other approaches: “Some monitoring technologies involve shutting down the battery system temporarily and assessing SoH by applying a test current to check capacity and internal resistance. This is an approach that involves regular maintenance, regardless of whether or not there is a malfunction, akin to having an annual physical checkup. By contrast, the Voltage Deviation Method determines SoH from data obtained under operating conditions. This approach involves monitoring operating data from machines and equipment, analyzing it and performing maintenance. We can say it is like a wearable device that analyzes your daily physical condition and detects signs of illness.”
Example of remote monitoring of SoH and local degradation using the Voltage Deviation Method
The reason for the development of the Voltage Deviation Method was feedback from divisions working with renewable energy. “Battery systems used in the power grid are regarded as infrastructure,” explains Yamamoto. They operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. One day, a person working with these systems said to me, ‘We can’t shut down infrastructure. What we want is a technology that allows us to evaluate data during operation.’ That’s when we started serious research.”
So what exactly is the mechanism for evaluating SoH? Simply put, “SoH is estimated by statistically calculating the feature* of voltage values using charge/discharge data taken from battery systems while they are operating.” We asked Yamamoto for a few more details
*Feature: An individual measurable property or characteristic of a phenomenon being observed. Choosing informative, discriminating and independent features is a crucial element of effective algorithms in pattern recognition, classification and regression.
“First, we prepared several degraded rechargeable batteries and conducted various experiments simulating actual conditions, such as temperature and charge/discharge patterns, and acquired data corresponding to SoH. We stored this experimental data in a database as ‘training data.’
“In the next step, we derived a reference function from the training data by linking its features to SoH. This is then compared to the features drawn from the actual operating data of a battery system, giving SoH as an output. Then we monitor any changes in this SoH.”
The technology was made possible by Toshiba’s AI and the huge amounts of data held by its Battery Division. Toshiba deals in many types of rechargeable batteries, including SCiB™, and it possesses a large amount of evaluation data from rechargeable batteries that have been degraded under a range of conditions during the development process. The “training database” is built by making use of rechargeable batteries with known degradation conditions.
Evaluating SoH by comparing data from degraded battery cells with actual operating data
In the future, as renewable energy is much more widely adopted, and rechargeable batteries are used in more locations, more and more practical data will be gathered. The more data are built up, the easier it will be to make predictions that reflect rechargeable batteries’ actual state of use, such as degradation rate, with a high degree of accuracy. Yamamoto has high hopes for this area and continues research and development.
Successful demonstrations prove value of battery monitoring; now the key is providing it as a service
As already noted, Toshiba has a number of rechargeable battery monitoring technologies, including the Voltage Deviation Method, which has collected SoH data from a megawatt-class demonstration unit in North America. In fact, Toshiba is able to pinpoint which batteries need to be replaced in large battery systems that it has installed in the US that comprises 800 battery modules.
Analysis of changes in SoH is also being conducted for battery systems used in electrically powered buses, ships, and other vehicles. For example, data obtained remotely from an electric bus equipped with an SCiBTM battery, which operated in Malaysia as part of a NEDO* demonstration project for a large electric bus using a 10-minute quick charge, was analyzed using the Voltage Deviation Method. It confirmed that SoH values close to those at the time of installation were maintained, which serves as evidence to verify the service life of the batteries.
*New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO)
By visualizing the service life and performance of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, battery monitoring technology will maximize performance and pave the way to solving the problems of difficulties in procuring scarce resources and the environmental impact of waste. Yamamoto, however, envisions further applications in the future.
“When we talk about rechargeable batteries from a research perspective, such as at academic conferences, we tend to focus more on devices or principles. Although the topic of what materials and analysis methods are under development comes up, it is difficult to talk about the implementation of these batteries in society, such as analysis methods that can deal with the variation in the equipment data recorded by actual battery systems and what services can be provided by taking advantage of this data. For example, in the case of the Voltage Deviation Method, we would like to make it possible to provide aftercare through daily SoH monitoring, and provide this as a new subscription service.”
Takahiro Yamamoto, Expert, System AI Laboratory, Advanced Intelligent Systems Laboratories, Corporate Research & Development Center, Toshiba Corporation
What Yamamoto said gets to the essence of what we call cyber-physical systems (CPS). CPS collect physical data, actual data from the real world, analyze it in cyberspace using digital technology, process it into valuable information and insights, and feed it back to the physical side. This is precisely what is meant by Toshiba’s goal of “value creation through the use of data (DX).”
“If we can make CPS for battery systems a reality, we can provide battery system features that can be used safely and reliably indefinitely. This will reduce the burden of implementation placed on our customers, while at the same time ensuring our profits. This is like, for example, an insurance company that analyzes a variety of data mathematically, and designs products and provides services from the customer’s perspective.
“This kind of thinking is needed for battery systems used in infrastructure. However, a number of obstacles remain. I hope that going forward, we can address these by using rechargeable battery monitoring technologies, such as the Voltage Deviation Method, in various situations appropriate for their respective characteristics,” Yamamoto says hopefully.
Development is currently underway to incorporate rechargeable battery monitoring technology into an IoT infrastructure service that connects a cross Toshiba Group companies. Once this is accomplished, group companies will easily be able to use the appropriate monitoring technique when deploying services that use rechargeable batteries.
The roll-out of renewable energy is an urgent requirement for building a carbon-free society. To this end, it is also essential to improve the efficiency and service life of battery systems. Moreover, with the linear use of products from manufacturing to disposal now being recognized as a problem, this can contribute to a more recycling-based circular economy, in which products are used and reused for a longer period of time. Toshiba’s battery monitoring technologies have a part to play in this process, and will change the way the battery business is conducted.