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Sandia Labs Battery Abuse Testing Laboratory undergoing $4.2 million stimulus fund renovation


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Sandia’s world-renowned Battery Abuse Testing Laboratory is undergoing a major renovation so Sandia researchers can test larger batteries for electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

The nation’s leading facility for battery testing was built in 1991, and has conducted thousands of critical scientific studies to evaluate the safety of batteries under every imaginable abuse scenario that a battery might face in the real world. Those studies included 12 years of testing for the FreedomCAR program and the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium.

The $4.2 million overhaul, paid for with federal stimulus funds, includes updating test bays, data acquisition systems and laboratory space, and hiring additional staff members to meet the growing demand for Sandia’s battery safety expertise.

“This will bring our capabilities up to the point where we can test larger batteries that are going to be relevant to the electric vehicle market, and move up to batteries that will be used in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles,” said Chris Orendorff, team lead for the Battery Abuse Testing Lab. “We’ll have the capability to test batteries in the 5- to 15-kilowatt-hour range, which we’ve never done before. This scale of testing is critical to the deployment of electric vehicles that are needed to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”

During a visit to Sandia in November 2009, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman announced the Battery Abuse Testing Lab funding as part of a $104.7 million stimulus package whose goal is to advance national clean energy and technology efficiency across seven Department of Energy (DOE) national labs. The Battery Abuse Testing Lab’s share is paying for much-needed upgrades to the lab, along with several new lab positions and sustaining about 50 construction-related jobs.

“This has been a great way to do our part in putting people in the community to work and keep them working,” said Charles Tomlin, construction manager for the project. “We’ve worked with 11 architects and engineers and about 30 to 40 construction contractors and vendors, and we expect to be done with construction three months ahead of schedule.”

The upgrades include an X-ray computerized tomography system that will generate 3-D images to allow researchers to conduct failure analysis without doing physical analysis, which can be destructive. The lab’s battery calorimetry capabilities will be the world’s largest and will include six accelerating rate calorimeters (ARCs), three isothermal battery calorimeters, one microcalorimeter, and one differential scanning calorimeter, all of which will be consolidated and housed in the new facility. New spectrometers and laser diagnostics for gas measurements, upgrades to the scrubber system, and additional battery cyclers, supporting higher-energy batteries, are also on the lab’s roster of new equipment.

“Chris and his team are already internationally recognized for their work. The recapitalization will allow us to sustain that leadership position in battery safety research and continue to develop new diagnostic techniques that are needed by domestic automotive manufacturers and their battery suppliers,” said Tom Wunsch, manager of Sandia’s battery research efforts.

Serving as the nation’s leading battery abuse testing center for the past two decades has taken its toll. Inside the 2,000-pound blast doors, the need for upgrades is readily apparent. The test bays bear witness to the years of battery abuse testing, and resultant fires, smoke and violent decomposition events. Much of the equipment is original and must be modernized to meet the nation’s growing energy storage needs.

The remodeled bays have been completely stripped clean, coated in an epoxy paint to make cleanup easier, with new explosion-proof lights and a new carbon-dioxide fire suppression system that can be engaged manually or automatically to quickly bring large fires under control.

“In addition to the fire suppression system, we have moved all of the live power out of the test bays, except for the temporary power required for any given test. This allows us to safely cut power to the unit undergoing testing should safety concerns warrant,” said Bill Averill, who oversees day-to-day operations of the lab while providing technical battery testing support.

New data acquisition systems will ensure a much more precise readout of results. The new systems will also help with efficiency, reducing set-up time by as much as a day, which will increase throughput six times. “The bays will be hard-wired and ready to go, so we can bring in batteries, connect them to the testers and start testing,” Orendorff said. “We can also run multiple tests simultaneously, which we’ve never been able to do before. These kinds of streamlined test capabilities will help expand our customer base, increase throughput for the lab and will enable us to provide more support for industry.”

Because much of the battery lab’s testing is done for private companies, the area outside the control room will have two new 42-inch monitors so visitors can watch the test.

Although the lab is unmistakably a construction zone, testing is still being conducted in half of the lab while the other half is overhauled. Construction crews work from early morning until the early afternoon, at which time the laboratory team sets up and conducts tests.

Construction started in December 2010, and completion is scheduled for September 2012, but the work will likely be complete this summer. Orendorff expects the lab to be fully operational by March 2012.

“Because these are Recovery Act funds, we realize the importance of trying to get this spent on American jobs and American equipment. We are doing everything we can to get that done as quickly and responsibly as possible,” Orendorff said. About half the equipment funds were spent in the first six months of the project. “Getting this money out into the economy is one of the DOE’s priorities, and we’ve worked pretty hard to do that.”

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated and managed by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.


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