National Physical Laboratory

Battery research wins 2017 Collaborate to Innovate Award

NPL research into failure mechanisms in lithium-ion batteries, carried out in collaboration with UCL, NASA, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the European Synchrotron Research Facility (ESRF), has won The Engineer's 2017 Collaborate to Innovate Award in the Safety & Security category.

Battery showing thermal runaway during thermal abuse tests (Credit: Donal Finegan, UCL)
Battery showing thermal runaway
during thermal abuse tests
(Credit: Donal Finegan, NPL/UCL)

Judged by a panel of leading UK engineers from organisations including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and the University of Cambridge, winning entries had to demonstrate that they were innovative, collaborative and likely to have an impact in their field of application. The results of the 2017 competition were announced at an awards dinner in London on 5 September. The judges cited NPL's collaboration as 'important pioneering research that has advanced our understanding of lithium battery failure'.

Thermal runaway of high energy density batteries is of increasing concern to manufacturers and end users, a point highlighted by the recent Samsung mobile phone fires and the grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner fleet. As the energy density of such cells increases to cater for emerging markets such as automotive propulsion and grid storage, the effectiveness of battery safety features becomes ever more critical.

This collaborative research project combined an internal short circuit device developed by NASA and NREL with the X-ray synchrotron radiography technique pioneered by UCL, NPL and the ESRF, which allowed for the first time 3D imaging of the initiation and propagation of thermal runaway in real time at a pre-determined location within a commercial cell. The new approach shows great promise in informing the design of improved battery safety mechanisms.

The previous year's award in the same category was for 'The Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carriers - the design and manufacture of two 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers, the largest warships ever built by the UK'.

Find out more about NPL's Electrochemical Energy Conversion and Storage research

Contact: Gareth Hinds

Last Updated: 12 Sep 2017
Created: 12 Sep 2017

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