If the battery in a smartphone or electric vehicle is faulty and is at risk of catching fire, the smart chip is designed to warn the user. Currently warning systems only alert users when the battery is already overheating which may be too late for any remedial action.
Developed by Professor Rachid Yazami of the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N), the smart chip is small enough to be embedded in almost all batteries. A pioneer in battery research, Prof Yazami won the 2014 Draper Prize for Engineering awarded by the Washington-based National Academy of Engineering for being one of the three founders of the lithium-ion battery. The award recognized his discovery in the 1980s in making lithium-ion batteries safely rechargeable, paving the way for its universal use today.
"Although the risk of a battery failing and catching fire is very low, with the billions of lithium-ion batteries being produced yearly, even a one-in-a-million chance would mean over a thousand failures," says Prof Yazami. "This poses a serious risk for electric vehicles and even in advanced aeroplanes as usually big battery packs have hundreds of cells or more bundled together to power the vehicle or aircraft. If there is a chemical fire caused by a single failed battery, it could cause fires in nearby batteries, leading to an explosion."
Embedded in the smart chip is a proprietary algorithm developed by Prof Yazami that is based on electrochemical thermodynamics measurements. Existing lithium-ion batteries have a chip in them which only shows voltage and temperature readings. Today’s battery chips are unable to detect symptoms of a malfunction and can also show only the estimated amount of charge the battery is holding.
In comparison, Prof Yazami’s patented algorithm is able to analyze both the state of health and the state of charge through a three-dimensional chart. On a monitor screen, it looks similar to a ski route down a mountain.
Drawing on the analogy of a fingerprint, Prof Yazami says, "The ‘ski route’ of a brand new battery looks different from those of a degraded or faulty battery – just like how two fingerprints will look quite different."
"In addition to knowing the degradation of batteries, our technology can also tell the exact state of charge of the battery, and thus optimize the charging so the battery can be maintained in its best condition while being charged faster. My vision for the future is that every battery will have this chip, which will in turn reduce the risk of battery fires in electronic devices and electric vehicles while extending their life span."
The smart chip took Prof Yazami more than five years to develop and is now marketed by his start-up, KVI Pte Ltd. Working together with Prof Yazami on developing the smart chip platform at ERIAN is research scientist Mr Sohaib El Outmani.
KVI is now being incubated by NTU’s commercialisation arm, NTUitive. KVI is developing the chip into a series of products, which include battery packs for recharging mobile devices, charge gauge for electric vehicles, and a smart chip for every battery.
The start-up company has an exclusive license on Prof Yazami’s ETM technology which is based on his research done in NTU Singapore, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).
The technology will be made available for licensing by chipmakers and battery manufacturers before the end of 2016.