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NREL - National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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Energy Storage Thermal Management

Infrared image of rectangular battery cell.

Infrared thermal image of a lithium-ion battery cell with poor terminal design.

Graph of relative capacity (ranging from .75 to 1) of battery in percent over time (ranging from 0 to 15 years) for three different climates (represented by Minneapolis, Houston and Phoenix) compared to a range of temperatures in 5-degree Celsius increments over 15 years. Trend lines from upper left to lower right reflect diminished capacity over time and shorter lifespan in Phoenix.

An EDV battery that can last almost 15 years in a temperate climate, like in Minnesota, performs adequately for only seven years in a hot climate, such as in Arizona.

Infrared image of rectangular battery cell.

Infrared image of pouch cell entering into thermal runaway after activation of NREL's Internal Short Circuit device.

Photo of three researchers looking at ice crystal formation on gaskets and wire coming out of metal chamber.

NREL uses its Isothermal Battery Calorimeter to examine the negative effects of cold temperatures on battery power and capacity.

A well-designed thermal management system is critical to the life and performance of electric-drive vehicles (EDVs)—hybrids (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and all-electric vehicles (EVs). Temperature and temperature uniformity both significantly affect the performance, lifespan, and safety of vehicle energy storage devices. NREL conducts thermal management research and development (R&D) to optimize battery performance and extend useful life.

A recognized leader in battery thermal analysis and characterization, NREL tests and evaluates electrical and thermal performance of battery cells, modules, and packs, full energy storage systems, and the interaction of these systems with other vehicle components. The lab's performance assessments factor in the design of the thermal management system, the thermal behavior of the cell, battery lifespan, and safety of the energy storage system, as well as full integration into a vehicle.

The lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries found in most of today's electric-drive vehicles are smaller and more lightweight than previous nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) technology, but they are also more sensitive to overheating, overcharging, and extreme spikes in temperature known as thermal runaway. High temperatures diminish battery life and increase battery replacement costs, while low temperatures decrease battery power and capacity, all of which impact vehicle range, performance, and affordability.

NREL's breakthrough research is focused on reducing thermal barriers to achieve more uniform temperatures. NREL uses its R&D 100 Award-winning Isothermal Battery Calorimeters, the only instruments in the world capable of such precise thermal measurements, for much of this research. Calorimeter readings are paired with thermal imaging of batteries using infrared cameras to evaluate battery temperature distribution. In addition, NREL is working with industry to develop computer-aided engineering software tools to optimize thermal management of batteries. NREL's tests for the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) show that optimized thermal management can increase battery power by more than 10%.

Without proper thermal management, an EDV battery can last more than 10 years in a temperate climate, like in Minnesota, but only 7 years in a hot climate, such as in Arizona. In extreme instances, battery overheating can pose safety hazards, including fires.

Performance

Maintaining desired temperature ranges is critical in optimizing EDV battery storage capacity, lifespan, and performance, and eventually impacts cost and consumer acceptance. NREL's breakthrough research focuses on achieving more uniform temperatures while a vehicle is in motion and actively generating heat, as well as when it is parked and exposed to ambient temperatures over prolonged periods of time.

Safety

Most energy storage systems deliver maximum performance at higher temperatures. However, this extreme heat can overload systems and create dangerous conditions. NREL testing helps more effectively regulate thermal characteristics, providing greater safeguards and stronger performance. NREL has invented a device that emulates internal short circuits in batteries to better understand how to prevent future failures and related hazards.

Contacts

For more information on NREL's:

  • Energy storage thermal management activities, contact Matthew Keyser, 303-275-3876.
  • Safety modeling activities, contact Gi-Heon Kim, 303-275-4437.