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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.

Given that lithium-ion batteries literally power a variety of industries, companies are racing to develop the next innovations: safer, longer-lasting batteries that perform at a high level. Getting 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—which is where environmental test chambers come in. They enable the next great breakthroughs in lithium-ion batteries that could very well change the world. 

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 common 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. 

Evidenced by product failures, there are inherent dangers to working with lithium, the worst being thermal runaway that result 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

 

Testing Performance in Environmental Conditions

Have you ever left a phone in the sun and have it display a warning that says it’s shutting down? Better yet, how do you know it’s safe to leave your laptop, tablet, or phone connected to a charger even when the battery is at full capacity?

The answer: Companies develop safety mechanisms with the help of environmental testing. They push the batteries and the products themselves to failure to identify their ‘breaking’ points and design features to prevent those failures. It’s a multi-tiered process. 

HALT & HASS Testing

In highly accelerated life testing (HALT), companies subject their devices to a combination of extreme conditions (often temperature and humidity) to simulate the life cycle (i.e., a change of a few degrees and an increase of relative humidity corresponds to five years of use). In doing so, they determine when their products fail and set expectations for consumers. These findings influence product warranties and recommendations. 

In production, companies conduct highly accelerated stress screening (HASS). HASS testing involves quickly exposing products to extreme conditions (temperatures, humidity, vibrations, or more) to confirm they meet the standards established by HALT testing. The goal is to prove the products are ready for public use. Whereas other industries HASS test random batches, companies often test every product (especially those that serve critical roles such as AEDs or flight-recording devices) that comes off the line that has a lithium-ion battery. 

Why the Conditions Matter

Preventing your electronics from exploding in public is certainly a good enough reason to implement strict testing requirements, but there’s a more practical reason as well. 

The products should work the same regardless of climate, be it the dry heat of Arizona, the extreme cold of Arctic nations, or corrosive environments along the coast. That’s particularly important for communication devices and medical equipment.

The only way to prove their quality is to expose these devices to the kind of conditions they might encounter in the real world. 

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

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 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. 

The Benefits of ATPPRIME:

  • Test almost any battery cell type: coin, cylindrical, prismatic, pouch, and park cells. 
  • Easily switch between battery types with universal Kelvin connectors.
  • Accommodate different load sizes by holding up to 48 different cells across four shelves.
  • Safely access each connector by sliding out the shelves. 
  • Manage testing data, including charge and discharge measurements, through the built-in Battery Interface Board (BIB).

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 option, 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. 

FLEX BATTERY

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 leakes, 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: 

Battery Testing Safety Features

Severity Level Description Severity Classification & Effects Criteria Recommended Safety Features by Severity
0 No Effect No effect. No loss of functionality. Standard chamber features are effective
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. Standard chamber features are effective
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. Standard chamber features are effective
3 Leakage
Δ mass <50%
No venting, fire, or flame*; no rupture; no explosion. Weight loss <50% of electrolyte weight (electrolyte = solvent + salt). ALARM: Light tower and audible warning; product overheat protector with sensor

CONTAINMENT: Product drip tray

DOOR: Electromagnetic door lock; solenoid door interlock

GAS: Pressure relief valve during an event; pressure equalization valve (one way valve allowing equalization of pressure between chamber workspace and atmospheric pressure)

4 Venting
Δ mass >=50%
No fire or flame*; no rupture; no explosion. Weight loss ≥50% of electrolyte weight (electrolyte = solvent + salt). SEVERITY LEVEL 3 SAFETY FEATURES PLUS:

CONTAINMENT: Drip tray and reinforced floor; LN2 test article cooling plate

DOOR: Reinforced door latch

EXHAUST: Pressure release port; reversible pressure relief flap; pressure relief system release port and two low flow release

SEALED: Port restraint (stops silicone port cover from popping off); cable port plug restraint (per port, max 6"); drain; motor port; pressure reinforced interior liner and intrinsic barriers; window gasket

5 Fire or Flame No rupture; no explosion (i.e., no flying parts). SEVERITY LEVEL 4 SAFETY FEATURES PLUS: 

EXHAUST: Burst disc/rupture disc; blow out port

FIRE: “Detect-a-fire” system, FM200 suppression system; detection via temperature measurement; suppression system; detection via temperature measurement; protection measured by carbon monoxide

GAS MONITORING: Gas monitor and alarm (single, double, triple gas detection)

PURGE: Continuous inert gas purge (inert/ zero O2 environment); continuous N2 or Ar gas purge (permanent inert gas environment); N2 or CO2 gas purge (permanent inert gas environment)

SPARK RESISTANT INTERIOR: Temperature limited sheath heaters; lights; barriers on sensors; non-sparking fans; sheath heaters; blowers aluminum

6 Rupture No explosion, but flying parts of the active mass. SEVERITY LEVEL 5 SAFETY FEATURES PLUS:

DOOR: Reinforced door; reinforced door hinges

EXHAUST: Burst disc; rupture disc; blow out port

SPARK RESISTANT INTERIOR: Sheath heaters; temperature limited sheath heaters; lights; barriers on sensors; non-sparking fans; interior (this would include all of this); blowers aluminum

SEALED: Remote refrigeration using a portable conditioning unit

7 Explosion Explosion (i.e., disintegration of the cell) SEVERITY LEVEL 6 SAFETY FEATURES

Other Safety Considerations

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 keeping the 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. 

Testing Large Format Batteries

As large format batteries continue to contribute key innovations in sustainable technology, 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 electric cars 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

Remote Dashboard Monitoring

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. 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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