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Battery Management System Improves Safety, Lowers Cost of Lithium-ion Batteries

January 16, 2023 by Mike Falter

Element Energy has received $28 million to advance its new BMS solution for EVs and grid energy storage solutions.

Element Energy has announced $28 million in new funding for its Battery Management System (BMS) designed to improve the safety, operating life, and cost of lithium-ion batteries in EVs and energy storage applications. 

 

Element Energy BMS controls individual lithium-ion cells. Image used courtesy of Element Energy

Element Energy BMS controls individual lithium-ion cells. Image used courtesy of Element Energy

 

Addressing EV, Energy Storage Challenges 

With its new approach, Element plans to improve the safety of new EV batteries while allowing used EV batteries to be repurposed for more cost-effective grid power storage solutions.

Element’s BMS is a combined hardware and software solution that offers a more granular approach to lithium-ion battery management by closely monitoring and optimizing charge and discharge rates for individual cells within the battery pack. 

Current standards manage groups of cells as a single pack, but by managing individual cells, Element’s solution can prevent thermal runaway and extend the operating life and total deliverable energy of batteries by up to 50%.   

 

Thermal Runaway in EV Batteries 

The electrolyte used in lithium-ion battery cells is flammable. If a cell short-circuits, this electrolyte can heat up and combust to the point where the pressure within the cell forces the flammable electrolyte to breach the cell containment. Temperatures at the breached cell can reach over 1,000°C, and when it initiates the same reaction in other cells, it becomes thermal runaway propagation. Thermal runaway propagation can significantly threaten passengers, the vehicle, and nearby property.

The risk of battery fire exposes OEMs to expensive recalls or implementation of in-vehicle fire suppression systems that are not practical. By managing individual cells within the battery pack, Element Energy’s system can find and mitigate failures before thermal runaway occurs.

 


 

Thermal runaway is a safety hazard for EVs. Image used courtesy of Tapecon

Thermal runaway is a safety hazard for EVs. Image used courtesy of Tapecon



Long-duration Energy Storage

Lithium-ion batteries are a critical component in the Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) essential for reliable energy supply in renewable systems. The challenge with lithium-ion storage is that it is not cost-competitive for long-duration storage (10 hours or more at rated power), so it can only be used for shorter-duration storage, up to about 4 hours.  

With the Element BMS system, used EV batteries that would otherwise be recycled can be repurposed for “second-life” energy storage applications. By recovering the lost capacity associated with cell mismatches, the company estimates that it can reduce the system total cost of ownership (TCO) of second-life energy storage systems by up to 40%. The lower cost of ownership helps make lithium-ion BESS systems more viable for long-duration storage use cases.  

 

 

BMS systems reduce costs by 40% in second-life storage applications. Image used courtesy of Element Energy

BMS systems reduce costs by 40% in second-life storage applications. Image used courtesy of Element Energy

 

Element’s system can also be used directly in first-life, or new battery, energy storage applications where it estimates TCO can be reduced by up to 20%.

 

EV, Energy Storage Market Opportunities 

The opportunity Element Energy is chasing in the EV and energy storage market is significant. According to the company, rare battery defects have led to hundreds of EV fires and vehicle recalls costing e-OEMs more than $4 billion. 

By 2030, there will be a projected 185 million EVs on the road and 1800 GWh of battery storage connected to the grid, all demanding safer, cheaper, and higher-capacity batteries.   

 

 

Chasing a large market opportunity. Image used courtesy of Element Energy

Chasing a large market opportunity. Image used courtesy of Element Energy

 


Inflation Reduction Act Drives Strategic Investment 

Founded in 2019 and headquartered in Menlo Park, CA, Element Energy holds over 50 patents in the battery management space and has raised close to $40 million to date. The company has an additional office in South Korea.  

Among its strategic investors is South Korean consumer electronics giant LG, also a leading manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries for EVs. LG has established its position in the EV battery market through joint ventures with General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and South Korea's Hyundai Motor Group. Last August, LG announced a $4.4 billion joint venture with Honda to manufacture EV batteries in the North American market.  

The announcement of the Honda joint venture came around the same time as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law this past August. According to the new legislation, eligibility for the full tax credits hinges on portions of the EV, including the battery, being sourced from US suppliers. Manufacturing its batteries in North America will allow Honda EVs sold in the US to qualify for the full consumer tax credit of up to $7,500 per vehicle.