After 30 months of collaboration, project partners Abertax Quality Inc of Malta and Mentzer Electronic GmbH of Germany, with research support from the University of Malta, have delivered an innovative lead and non lead acid battery system that gives users unprecedented real time information on the health and charge level of their batteries. This allows for more efficient and safe charging while saving valuable time and avoiding unnecessary maintenance costs.
The Intelligent Battery system thus represents a true milestone in the evolution of conventional battery systems, which are commonly plagued by a lack of standardization and interoperability of battery and charger parts, leaving users in the dark about vital information on the performance and longevity of their batteries. This information shortfall can create energy waste, extra costs and operational inefficiencies.
At its essence, the Intelligent Battery project strived to make battery use and charging "simple and intelligent while at the same time delivering electricity reliably, efficiently and in a cost effective manner," says Dr Joseph Cilia, C.E.O. and Research Director at Abertax.
To achieve their objectives, the companies realized innovations in at least three areas:
First, the Abertax team of electrical engineers made sure to "design the battery's electronics to match the load," explains Cilia in reference to the electronic circuitry that is embedded to monitor critical battery 'vital signs' such as temperature of the battery acid (which should not exceed 45 degrees Celcius) and its charge level. The data obtained by these circuits is sent to a server, where it can be accessed through a variety of interfaces such as desktop computer displays and handheld devices.
Second, the charger, developed in tandem with the battery system, is able to communicate, so to speak, with the battery. This ensures that the battery is charged at optimal level each time, rather than overloaded or even damaged by the charger.
Finally, the battery casing design is modeled on the popular Lego blocks, whereby dimensions are set according to a 2:1 width to length ratio. In practice, this means several batteries can be stacked on top of one another and connected without the need for supplementary connector cables. This design also means the batteries can easily be placed together in various symmetrical combinations in a relatively small area, allowing for easier installation and space optimization.
While the bulk of the project focused on the creation of the new battery, developing the right charger system to feed the Intelligent Battery was an equally important part of the equation, and one that responds squarely to an imbalance that has plagued the battery market to date. Produced en masse particularly in emerging Asian nations, inexpensive chargers are abundant on the European market. But these chargers are usually not designed in tandem with the batteries they serve, and therefore they cannot communicate critical information about the battery to operators who need to make decisions about charging.
"For cost reasons, a non optimal situation has been accepted by the market," explains Mentzer, whose company developed the charger technology to accompany the battery components developed by Abertax. Consumers have access to cheap, immediate charging solutions. But ultimately they must pay for the design mismatch in the long term. In contrast, the Intelligent Battery charger is about 10 to 20 percent more expensive than the generic alternative, but the extra initial investment is more than recuperated in the medium and long term through prolonged battery life and better performance, says Mentzer.
The Intelligent Battery system has been patented internationally and is set for market distribution and use in a range of applications, including uninterrupted power supply systems in buildings, solar power storage systems and small scale renewable energy systems. Wheelchairs, cleaning applications and small vehicles such as pallet trucks are among the electric vehicles set to be enhanced by the Intelligent Battery, which offers an exciting range of possibilities for users. For example: real time information on a vehicle's power system delivered directly to mobile communication devices.
Equally, home owners who rely on stored energy from renewable energy sources are also likely to appreciate reliable, easy-to-access data on the charge level of the batteries they depend on for lighting or operating white goods. This can save users invaluable time and cost when servicing or maintenance is required, for example, since users "will know what he has to ask a technical person to do and what not to do," says Cilia.
The Intelligent Battery project exemplifies how two European enterprises can come together to innovate and bring value add to a highly competitive global market. Driven by the seamless collaboration between Abertax and Mentzer, and fed by the invaluable input of researchers from the University of Malta, this project is a "very good success story" characterized by "excellent" collaboration with Eureka, says Cilia.
Looking ahead, Abertax and Mentzer are planning further collaboration to deliver innovations in the field lithium ion batteries, which are used in hybrid and electric passenger vehicles and beyond. Indeed, possibilities for battery systems innovation in the field of electric mobility are limited only by the imagination, and are increasingly compelling given the urgent energy and environmental challenges of our time.
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