NPL research on failure mechanisms in lithium-ion batteries, performed in partnership 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.
Winning entries, judged by a panel of prominent UK Engineers from organizations including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and the University of Cambridge, had to demonstrate that they were collaborative, innovative and likely to have an impact in their field of application. On 5th September, the results of the 2017 competition were announced at an awards dinner in London. The judges quoted 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 growing concern to end users and manufacturers, a point emphasized by the grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner fleet and the recent Samsung mobile phone fires. The effectiveness of battery safety features becomes ever more critical as the energy density of such cells increases to cater for developing markets such as grid storage and automotive propulsion.
This collective research project combined an internal short circuit device produced by NREL and NASA with the X-ray synchrotron radiography technique initiated by NPL, UCL and the ESRF. This allowed for the very first 3D imaging of the initiation and propagation of thermal runaway in real time at a pre-determined location inside a commercial cell. The new approach holds great potential in informing the design of enhanced battery safety mechanisms.
The 2016 award in the same category was for 'The Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carriers - the design and manufacture of two 65,000 ton aircraft carriers, the largest warships ever built by the UK'.