Sandia researcher Pete Roth examines a lithium-ion battery before dismantling it for testing in the chamber behind him. (Sandia National Laboratories/Randy Montoya)
Sandia National Laboratories will use $4.2 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to modify and enhance its existing Battery Abuse Testing Laboratory (BATLab), with the goal of developing low-cost batteries for electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Sandia’s BATLab is internationally recognized as a leader in the field of battery testing to ensure they meet real-world performance requirements. The tests help to determine how much abuse lithium ion batteries can safely handle, including being crushed, pounded with nails, and heated to boiling hot temperatures. Sandia tests everything from regular small cells about the size of a laptop computer battery up to full-sized modules and packs weighing several hundred pounds for hybrid vehicles.

The $4.2 million in funding is part of a $104.7 million economic stimulus package to further develop the nation’s efforts in clean energy and efficient technologies across seven DOE national laboratories.

The DOE-funded FreedomCAR program turned to Sandia to investigate the possibility of safely using lithium-ion batteries, which have more power and weigh less than the nickel-metal hydride batteries currently being used in hybrid vehicles. But before lithium-ion batteries could be placed in vehicles, extensive safety tests needed to take place. With the recent stimulus funds, the BATLab will be able to greatly increase the number of tests it does.

“The equipment and facilities that we currently have allow us to do only one test at a time, so our throughput has been somewhat limited,” said Pete Roth, lead researcher for Sandia’s FreedomCAR program. “The new equipment and upgrades that we will be able to implement will enhance the amount and range of testing and diagnostics that we can do, and we expect to at least be able to double our throughput.” Those upgrades include fire suppression, improved lighting and advanced electrical systems, in addition to new software and analytical equipment to help diagnose battery responses and provide data for manufacturers.

Such improved efficiency will allow Sandia to continue to offer increasingly valuable contributions to the nation’s FreedomCAR effort.

The $104.7 million ARRA funding is concentrated on three priorities: advancing carbon fiber manufacturing and processing technologies to help reduce the weight of vehicles, developing integrated building systems to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, and expanding facilities for fabricating and testing advanced battery prototypes for fuel-efficient vehicles.

(Sandia National Laboratories)