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Improved Short-Circuit Protection for Power Cells in Series

A scheme for protection against short circuits has been devised for series strings of lithium electrochemical cells that contain built-in short-circuit protection devices, which go into a high-resistance, current-limiting state when heated by excessive current. If cells are simply connected in a long series string to obtain a high voltage and a short circuit occurs, whichever short-circuit protection device trips first is exposed to nearly the full string voltage, which, typically, is large enough to damage the device. Depending on the specific cell design, the damage can defeat the protective function, cause a dangerous internal short circuit in the affected cell, and/or cascade to other cells.

In the present scheme, reverse diodes rated at a suitably high current are connected across short series substrings, the lengths of which are chosen so that when a short-circuit protection device is tripped, the voltage across it does not exceed its rated voltage. This scheme preserves the resetting properties of the protective devices. It provides for bypassing of cells that fail open and limits cell reversal, though not as well as does the more-expensive scheme of connecting a diode across every cell.

This work was done by Francis Davies of Hernandez Engineering Inc. for Johnson Space Center.
MSC-23446-1

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