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Battery Boost

March 23, 2015 — Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are commonly found in portable electronics such as cell phones and notebook PCs. They’re also gaining popularity in electric vehicles, where their compact, lightweight build and high-energy storage potential offers a more efficient and environmentally safe alternative to nickel metal hydride and lead-acid batteries traditionally used in vehicles.

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed modeling software to help other researchers and battery manufacturers improve the design of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. The modeling tool, known as the Virtual Integrated Battery Environment, or VIBE, will allow researchers to test lithium-ion batteries under different simulated scenarios before the batteries are built and used in electric vehicles.

VIBE was developed by researchers in ORNL’s Computational Engineering & Energy Sciences group, led by John Turner, as part of DOE’s Computer-Aided Engineering for Batteries (CAEBAT) partnership.

According to Dr. Turner, “Our role in CAEBAT was to develop and deploy an open-source environment that would help to integrate both research and commercial battery modeling efforts. Other CAEBAT partners have developed commercial tools that are compatible with the software infrastructure we’ve developed, and we’re deploying a non-commercial platform for researchers at universities and national labs.”

Said Sreekanth Pannala, technical lead for the CAEBAT team: “We want to be able to have an idea implemented in a model, see the efficacy of it and then help guide how companies design battery cells using that concept.”

DOE started the CAEBAT program in 2010, and ORNL had a limited release of the software in 2012. The 2014 release includes many enhancements in both physics capabilities and usability.

“We learned a lot from the first release, got some feedback, built on it and added a lot of new capability in this release,” Pannala said.

The latest software package includes an easy-to-use configuration, setup, launch and post-processing feature, standardized input and information exchange between physics components, and a unique tool for performing coupled electrochemical-electrical-thermal simulations known as Advanced MultiPhysics for Electrochemical and Renewable Energy Storage (AMPERES).

“No previous tool has provided this level of integration between the various physics components,” Pannala said. “This program is bridging the gap between theory and experiment, so that you can now design a battery cell and integrate all the associated processes in order to more accurately predict performance.”

“That is where modeling is very beneficial,” he said.

Surprisingly, a large computing resource is not necessary to run the software, although it depends on the complexity of the problem.

“It can be run on a desktop if you’re doing a small problem,” Pannala said. “Once you’re comfortable with that, you can scale it to a small cluster or supercomputer.”

Additionally, the software is designed so the user can submit a large parametric sweep or optimization case to run overnight, eliminating the need to wrestle for primetime computer hours and allowing users to concentrate on data analysis and problem set-up during the day.

“The ability to scavenge computer resources that are idle at night is attractive for some organizations and companies, and VIBE provides that,” Pannala said.

Together, these features help users analyze the effects of their specific lithium-ion battery design requirements and develop increasingly affordable, safer batteries with longer life and higher performance.
VIBE can be downloaded from the CAEBAT website, and ORNL researchers are available for user outreach and support to build this community capability.

Additional members of the multidisciplinary development group are ORNL’s Computer Science and Mathematics Division’s Srikanth Allu, Andrew Bennet, Jay Billings, Wael Elwasif, Sergiy Kalnaus, Abhishek Kumar, Damien Lebrun-Grandie, Alex McCaskey, Srdjan Simunovic and Stuart Slattery.

ORNL partners on CAEBAT are ANSYS, CD-adapco, EC Power and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy provides funding for the research.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit –Chris Samoray