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The AES Guide to Lithium-Ion Battery Test Chambers

Temperature and Humidity Chambers for Battery Testing

Few inventions have impacted the modern world as much as rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine everyday life without them. They’ve made remote work possible through laptops and mobile devices. They’ve changed the way we enjoy entertainment. They serve a life-saving purpose, both in streamlining communication for emergency services and making portable medical devices, like the automated external defibrillator (AED), possible. 

In recent years, they’ve paved the way for the expanse of electric vehicles, with top-of-the-market cars capable of traveling hundreds of miles on a single charge. (Passenger electric planes may not be far behind). Then there’s the crucial role they play in the military and defense.

Getting these advanced technologies to market, however, requires hours upon hours of research and design because defective solutions are potentially dangerous to the public and damaging to brands. 

Consider the plight of exploding phones, hoverboards, and more. Companies paid dearly in fines, recalls, and endured reputational losses that caused them to lose ground to competitors. 

These incidents underscore the importance of safe, accurate testing in R&D and production. 

However, battery technology only advances are far as battery testing technology can. So it’s up to test chambers to facilitate the next great world-changing breakthroughs in lithium-ion batteries.

Here’s everything you need to know about battery test chambers.

Battery Basics: Helping Develop the Battery of the Future

Lithium isn’t the only material used in the battery industry. Nickel and lead batteries are standard because of their lower cost. Having said that, the lightweight, high-energy recharging characteristics of lithium-ion batteries make them popular for companies across industries. 

As evidenced by product failures, there are inherent dangers to working with lithium, the worst being thermal runaway that results in fire and even explosions.

The Advantage of Using Lithium Compounds

Lithium compounds are popular in batteries for these qualities: 

  • Lightweight, which makes them ideal for powering portable consumer devices 
  • Very reactive with a high energy density and fast charges
  • Rechargeable, with higher voltages and longer life spans than other battery materials 
  • Slower discharge compared to other chemicals

There are downsides, however. Lithium compounds are expensive, due to a finite supply and dangerous mining. They’re also volatile (the aforementioned risks of thermal runaway) and difficult to scale for large applications. 

But as long as consumer demand for portable electronics and electric vehicles remains high, engineers will continue to pour vast resources into developing safe, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries that overcome the hazards of the material. 

There’s no box that bounds the engineers’ research, from experimenting with chemicals and compounds in search of a replacement for cobalt (a high-cost component of lithium-ion batteries) to exploring new designs in liquid, flow, and solid-state batteries. 

Whichever direction the battery market sways, Associated Environmental Systems is working to support research and development and production with efficient ways for testing batteries of all styles and sizes.

How Lithium-Ion Batteries Work

Types of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Inside coin cell battery

cylindrical battery pouch

Test chambers can be customized for temperature and humidity. Read our full test chamber buyer’s guide to understand the characteristics and systems you’ll need.

 

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The Importance of Owning a Battery Testing Fixture

Lithium Ion Test Chambers

When it comes to testing batteries, you have options: You could purchase a battery testing fixture, build one, or outsource your testing. 

Let’s start with outsourcing. Some of the biggest companies in the world choose to outsource their battery testing. It could be a matter of convenience—the third-party labs are closer to where they source materials—or preference. For instance, it opens up more time for the company to focus on other aspects of their product, especially if their primary market is not battery-driven. 

However, there are legitimate downsides to outsourcing. With fairly high rates, the cost can add up quickly, and if something goes wrong, either with the battery or the test itself, you have to start from scratch. The lab will simply identify that something went awry but won’t rectify the problem. Perhaps most concerning is the risk in that liability does not transfer to the lab. If your product fails after going to market, it’s on you, not the third-party testing site. 

Another option, albeit an inadvisable one, is to build your own fixture. If you have experts on your staff that are familiar with the right tools, materials, clips, wires, and energy sources you’ll need, then you could probably create a solution to effectively and safely test batteries.

But that only really applies to limited testing. The fact is you’ll be working with unstable materials, particularly in the design and prototyping phase. Each step carries a high level of risk from the extreme case of an explosion to a more common occurrence like short-circuiting. Then there’s repeatability. Putting everything in place takes time, and different load sizes and battery types require different configurations. 

If you want a safe, efficient battery testing fixture, then you need to buy one from a reputable manufacturer. Associated Environmental Systems has developed the ATP series specifically for optimized battery testing. 

The ATPPRIME is a full test chamber while the ATPFLEX can be added to an existing one. Both have features that enable effective, repeatable testing, while the ATPHEAVY is designed for higher amperage rates.

The Benefits of ATPPRIME:

ATPPRIME gives you a test chamber ready-built for batteries. You can modify it for nearly every type of battery: coin, cylindrical, prismatic, pouch, and pack cells. The universal Kelvin connectors enable you to switch between types as well. ATPPRIME is also easy and safe to use with up to four sliding shelves that accommodate 48 channels in total. Manage testing data, including charge and discharge measurements, through the built-in Battery Interface Board (BIB).

Benchtop ATPPRIME chambers can be stacked to promote efficient small-batch testing. 

The Benefits of ATPFLEX:

The benefits of ATPFLEX are right in its name. The flexibility allows you to choose a solution that fits your needs. You can select a fixture for a set quantity, cell type, and connector, or set up multiple configurations without purchasing a new chamber. 

With either the ATPPRIME or ATPFLEX, you’ll be able to test more often and secure better data than you would if you built your own fixture. 

You gain control over your battery testing in a safe, easy-to-use manner. 

The Benefits of ATPHEAVY

As demand for electric vehicle batteries with higher power-to-weight ratio increases, so does the need for battery testing technology that can match it. This is precisely where the ATPHEAVY comes in.

Engineers have focused on extending the driving range for lithium-ion batteries by improving their power-to-weight ratio. EV batteries currently offer about 370 miles per charge, which doesn’t account for climate or road conditions. 

The primary difference between ATPPRIME and ATPHEAVY is the amperage rate capabilities. ATPHEAVY is also uniquely designed to accommodate large prismatic pouch batteries—and it fits conveniently into your workspace. 

ATPHEAVY is compatible with benchtop temperature test chambers, including the Super 508, the most powerful benchtop chamber in the world.

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Battery Testing Standards

There are a variety of standards that apply to testing batteries in environmental test chambers to ensure that all batteries meet the requirements for safety, reliability, and performance. By exposing batteries to varied environmental conditions within a test chamber, manufacturers are able to replicate normal consumer wear-and-tear in their product before they are released to the public.

These standards are often set by overseeing bodies, be they government or voluntary. Requirements include but are not limited to temperature cycling, thermal shock, humidity, and corrosion. 

Common battery testing standards include the following: 

This standard specifies test procedures in order to observe the reliability and abuse behavior of secondary lithium-ion cells used for propulsion of electric vehicles including battery electric vehicles (BEV) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV).

This standard outlines the testing of electric or hybrid electric vehicle batteries to determine the response of such batteries to conditions or events which are beyond their normal operating range.

This standard provides tests and requirements for primary lithium batteries to ensure their safe operation under intended use and reasonably foreseeable misuse.

This standard provides information onprimary(non-rechargeable) and secondary (rechargeable) lithium batteries for use as power sources in products. These batteries contain metallic lithium, or a lithium alloy, or a lithium ion, and may consist of a single electrochemical cell or two or more cells connected in series, parallel, or both, that convert chemical energy into electrical energy by an irreversible or reversible chemical reaction.

This standard covers the scope of testing that all batteries must pass for safety during shipping.

This standard specifies performance tests, designations, markings, dimensions and other requirements for secondary lithium single cells and batteries for portable applications.

This standard specifies requirements and tests for the safe operation of portable sealed secondary cells and batteries (other than button) containing alkaline or other non-acid electrolytes, under intended use and reasonably foreseeable misuse.

This standard outlines the requirements for cover portable primary (non-rechargeable) and secondary (rechargeable) batteries for use as power sources in products. These batteries consist of either a single electrochemical cell or two or more cells connected in series, parallel, or both, that convert chemical energy into electrical energy by chemical reaction.

This standard guides manufacturers/suppliers in planning and implementing the controls for the design and manufacture of lithium-ion (Li-ion) and lithium-ion polymer (Li-ion polymer) rechargeable battery packs used for multi-cell mobile computing devices.

This standard offers the criteria for design analysis for qualification, quality, and reliability of rechargeable lithium ion and lithium ion polymer batteries for cellular telephone applications are established.

This standard provides test guidance and installation considerations for Small and Medium Sized Rechargeable Lithium Batteries and Battery systems that are permanently installed on an aircraft.

Test Chamber Safety Features for Lithium-Ion Batteries

Phones, laptops, hoverboards, and more don’t just burst into flames for no reason. The culprits are often combinations of environmental conditions and a lack of safety accounting for the lithium-ion batteries. 

These batteries are inherently dangerous, with a high amount of energy stored in a small amount of space. Short-circuiting can lead to liquid or gas leaks, fire, or even explosions. That’s why it’s so important to test batteries and the products they power in a controlled, safe environment; you’ll have to prove they won’t fail, and the only way to do that is to identify failure points.

Test chambers have a number of features that keep your lab technicians and engineers safe from unstable batteries. The features also contain incidents to the chamber’s workspace to avoid damage to the chamber as a whole, workers, and your lab.

Keep in mind that testing requirements and standards differ by industry. The nature of your testing will determine the safety features you ultimately need, from reinforced doors to gas purges and more. Here’s a helpful chart:

Severity Level Description Severity Classification & Effects Criteria
0 No Effect No effect. No loss of functionality.
1 Reversible Loss of Function No defect; no leakage; no venting, fire, or flame; no rupture; no explosion; no exothermic reaction or thermal runaway. Cell reversibly damaged. Repair of protection device needed.
2 Irreversible Defect/Damage No leakage; no venting, fire, or flame; no rupture; no explosion; no exothermic reaction or thermal runaway. Cell irreversibly damaged. Repair needed.
3 Leakage
Δ mass <50%
No venting, fire, or flame*; no rupture; no explosion. Weight loss <50% of electrolyte weight (electrolyte = solvent + salt).
4 Venting
Δ mass >=50%
No fire or flame*; no rupture; no explosion. Weight loss ≥50% of electrolyte weight (electrolyte = solvent + salt).
5 Fire or Flame No rupture; no explosion (i.e., no flying parts).
6 Rupture No explosion, but flying parts of the active mass.
7 Explosion Explosion (i.e., disintegration of the cell)

Other Safety Considerations: Lean Manufacturing And 5S Principles

As much as mechanical safety features prevent dangerous occurrences, you can’t eliminate risk completely. 

You can limit it, though, by adopting safe practices. Train the appropriate staff about the workings of the test chambers and keep those specs close by. Understand the building and municipality safety codes. Communicate with the manufacturer about all things related to the safety features of the test chamber—in fact, it should be part of the buying process

In short, don’t leave anything to chance. The more work you put into creating a safe work environment, the more confident you’ll be bringing your products to market.

In fact, Associated Environmental Systems incorporates safety and efficiency considerations into their battery test chamber designs. The ATP series features lean manufacturing and 5S (plus safety) principles:

  • Labeled channels and corresponding labels on cables interfacing with the cycler 
  • Color-coding for positive and negative
  • Pre-wired systems so cells easily connect 
  • Mounted, gold-plated kelvin clips with plastic dividers to prevent shorts
  • IGUS track and sliding shelves to organize cables 
  • Perforated, non-conductive Fr4 testing surface prevents shorts
  • Remote test monitoring capabilities to control the chamber from a laptop or tablet

Contact AES to find out how you can bring an ATP battery fixture to your lab.

Testing Large Format Batteries

As large format batteries continue to contribute key innovations in sustainable technology, particularly for electric vehicles, their market expands and popularity grows. They’re becoming lighter and more powerful stores of energy, pushing the limits of aviation and extending the distances EVs can travel on a single charge. 

However, before reaching consumers, lithium-based products demand meticulous testing. Given their volatility and size, doing so is a potentially dangerous and time-consuming process. You must know their limits, identify breaking points, and implement safety measures. 

Large test chambers not only accommodate such batteries, but save time, enabling you to assess multiple large format batteries simultaneously. AES offers temperature and humidity chambers as big as 64 cubic feet, providing high current connections and rapid change rates. 

Here are several advantages of purchasing an AES large format battery testing chamber:

  • To address testing severity needs, multiple safety features are included, such as ventilation blowers, nitrogen purges, inert pressure gas vents, and more.
  • Clear labeling of components reduces setup time, so you can begin testing immediately.
  • Heavy-duty shelving holds up to 500 pounds of product.
  • The built-in Battery Interface Board (BIB) establishes a secure connection, accurate charge and discharge readings, and data collection. 
  • The environmental test chamber and battery cycler can run from a single control panel for synchronous operational activity, collecting correlated temperature and cycling data, all in one place.

AES Service & Support

AES dashboard on laptop

Here’s something to know: A well-maintained test chamber can remain operational for 15 years or more. Every test chamber purchase therefore should be coupled with a service plan.

By conducting quarterly and yearly maintenance, you can identify potential problems before they become expensive issues, not to mention maintain a rigorous testing schedule throughout the year. This could be as simple as replacing a door hinge or performing a recalibration. It could be a more complex solution that you need to get ahead of. 

Either way, it’s best to have a quality service partner in your corner. AES’s service team is available to travel onsite to provide guidance, regular maintenance, and repairs as needed, or answer any battery testing questions you may have. AES can even build out a plan for you that works toward purchasing a replacement chamber. 

Most importantly, they service all test chambers, regardless of manufacturer. It’s part of AES’s commitment to excellent service. They keep you testing, so you can continue innovating and changing the world for the better.

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