Approaching Current Challenges With BMS Testing

June 26, 2019 | Who’s responsible for battery management system (BMS) testing? The vehicle OEM, the cell/module/pack supplier, and/or the contract manufacturer?

This is a question with nuanced answers, says Peter Blume, president and founder of Bloomy. Since starting Bloomy in 1991, Blume has seen the rapid evolution within the battery industry. This change results in questions about the sources of commercially available BMS testing equipment, the use of cell simulation hardware, and when to use real cells for testing the BMS to be thoroughly discussed by industry leaders, says Blume.

On behalf of Battery Power, Victoria Mosolgo spoke with Blume about the biggest advancements in battery engineering he’s seen in his 28 year career, the greatest current challenges with the BMS, and why there aren’t more electric vehicles on the road today.

Editor’s note: Blume will be hosting a roundtable discussion about BMS Test Approaches and Philosophies during the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference (AABC) in San Diego, June 24-27. The roundtable will take place Thursday June 27th, from 8:30-9:30am at Table #7. His conversation with Mosolgo, a Conference Producer at Cambridge Healthtech Institute, has been edited for length and clarity.

Battery Power: As the Founder of Bloomy, what were the main drivers that lead you to start your company?

Peter Blume: The rapid pace of innovation of personal computer hardware and software and its capability to revolutionize test equipment lead me to start Bloomy in 1991.This era featured the 80×86 family of IBM compatible PCs, DOS and Windows 3.1 operating systems, as well as Moore’s Law providing ever-increasing processing power, RAM memory and hard disk size and speed. Over the years, PC technology continued to evolve to include object-oriented software, 32-bit and then 64-bit operating systems, mobile devices with lithium-ion batteries, wireless networks, and a ubiquitous Internet. Today we’re experiencing the proliferation of sensors, embedded electronic control devices, electrification of virtually all things mechanical, cloud computing, big data analytics and the Internet of Things! There has never been a better time to specialize in automated testing equipment for batteries and electronic controls (ECUs). It has been a great ride!

In your over 28 years of experience in battery engineering what is the biggest advancement you have seen?

Looking across the entire 28 years, from the perspective of Bloomy and our customer base, one major shift we’ve experienced has been the transition from hydrogen fuel cells as the alternative energy storage (and generation) system to lithium-ion batteries. This happened in the early 2000-2010 decade. Companies like International Fuel Cells, which became “UTC Power”, were investing heavily in PEM fuel cells and I felt they made great progress, but it wasn’t the parent company’s core focus, which has become obvious today as UTC has undergone many aerospace-related mergers, acquisitions, and spinoffs. Unfortunately, the company that they sold to originally (ClearEdge Power) focused exclusively on a niche of stationary energy storage where the technology was not competitive, leading to the company’s initial bankruptcy and then sale to Doosan Group.

The latter half of the 2000-2010 decade is when the demand for Bloomy’s automated testing equipment transitioned to predominantly lithium-ion battery energy storage, as well as open- and closed-loop testing of complex electronic control systems. Some of our early customers included the original A123 Systems, US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), and many others. Today, our business has expanded to include most major electronic vehicle (EV) OEMs and their tier 1 battery suppliers, as well as many aerospace and defense companies.

What would you consider to be the greatest current challenge with Battery Management Systems?

In automotive batteries the greatest challenge for the BMS is the tradeoff between cost versus functionality. There are many promising technologies such as wireless sensing, optical sensing of cell voltage, temperature and strain which provides more cell data that is higher accuracy, immune to noise, and intrinsically safe; advanced state-of-charge (SOC) and state of health (SOH) algorithms, and finally active cell balancing which recirculates the energy that is currently dissipated across the bleed resistors in today’s passively-balanced battery management systems. Many of these technologies, however, are too expensive to put into production vehicles.

Why do you think there are not more electric vehicles on the road today? How long do you estimate it will take for the United States to become fully electric?

There are not more EVs on the road today because internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles are less expensive than EVs, and there is no accountability for the carbon emissions. The industry and its consumers need to be held accountable for the impact on the environment of the technology they are using. The cost to the environment needs to be incorporated into the cost of the technology. This could take the form of a carbon tax on carbon fuels as well as the vehicles that use them. When the cost of carbon emissions is factored into the price of an ICE vehicle, then EVs will become much more cost effective by comparison, and there will be far more EVs on the road.