This is how the Army builds a quiet hybrid vehicle: from the battery up - An exclusive interview with John Battaglini, VP of Business Development at International Battery
Thanks to reduced noise, increased fuel savings, and longer life cycles, Lithium iron batteries look to replace traditional lead-acid batteries in military vehicles, as John Battaglini of International Battery explains in this exclusive Q&A with Military Embedded Systems.
Editor’s Note: When I read the press release from International Battery and the Army about the Silent Watch program, it read like a Clancy novel describing covert night operations. But that’s exactly what the Army’s TARDEC wants: the ability to operate truckloads of equipment using only battery power. As the following interview with John Battaglini, International Battery’s VP of Business Development reveals, drop-in replacement has about 10x the number of discharge cycles compared to traditional lead-acid types, can cut auxiliary generator use by 50 percent to save fuel and noise, and has enough juice to run equipment without running a vehicle’s engine. And, it’s made in America. Edited excerpts follow. – Chris A. Ciufo
MIL EMBEDDED: OK. Tell me about the press release I received from International Battery entitled, “International Battery Receives TARDEC Contract to Develop Advanced Energy Storage Systems for the U.S. Army Silent Watch,” which I think is a combination of iron phosphate cells and ultra-capacitors.
BATTAGLINI: This was an award that we received from TARDEC, which does research for the tank [armored vehicle] division of the U.S. Army. We’ve been working with them for many years on Silent Watch. This latest contract was for a 12-volt battery that is a lead acid replacement. And, as you mentioned, it’s a lithium ion battery that is combined with ultra-capacitors to replace what is called theNATO 6T battery, a lead acid battery used in many military vehicles for Silent Watch Operations. This program is originated out of TARDEC in Michigan.
MIL EMBEDDED: You just said lithium ion, but the press release says lithium iron phosphate cells. Is that correct?
BATTAGLINI: Lithium iron is a subset of lithium ion, so both are correct. Lithium iron phosphate is the cathode chemistry we are using for this particular battery cell. This is a secondary cell, so this combination makes it a hybrid concept.
MIL EMBEDDED: Tell me more about Silent Watch Operations.
BATTAGLINI: Silent Watch is a military program, and its main objective is to enable longer runtimes when Humvees, Stryker vehicles, or other military vehicles are out on silent watch. Obviously you want to be as quiet as possible for as long as possible – no heat signature, no audible signature. Runtime has been a big concern: How long can Silent Watch happen? Right now they’re limited to [a couple of] hours of operation, and they really want to extend that to 8-10 hours. The battery technology is an important part of that.
MIL EMBEDDED: This battery we’re talking about – does it start the engine, or is it for the vehicle’s auxiliary equipment?
BATTAGLINI: It’s a combination. Basically, it will be used to start the vehicle, which is where the capacitors come into play to provide the high power needed for starting operations. We also want to be able to power all of the electronics on the vehicle and used during Silent Watch, such as sensors and night vision and laser designators and communications equipment.
MIL EMBEDDED: What is the starting power in this case, and what is the typical power drain when the engine is not running during Silent Watch?
BATTAGLINI: For starting power, these are rated as 130 amp hour cells. You’re going to get two or three times that current to start the vehicle. As far as the auxiliary load, it [can be around] 100 amps. To really increase the runtime, you’ll need several of these battery cells, but a continuous power draw is probably about 50-100 amps.
MIL EMBEDDED: This cell itself – the iron phosphate battery coupled with an ultra-capacitor – is this all in a self-contained unit? Or are these two physical pieces that work together?
BATTAGLINI: It’s in a self-contained enclosure. They are different technologies, both of which we will manufacture in our facility. They will work together, but they will be in one rugged enclosure.
MIL EMBEDDED: Give me an idea of how lead acid compares with lithium.
BATTAGLINI: You’re going to get double the energy in the same space for lithium versus lead acid. That’s significant for these vehicles where space is very limited inside a vehicle. The military has tried different technologies, and lithium is the most advanced battery technology to help solve this problem. So, you’re going to get very good energy density, as I mentioned, and you’re going to get very good cycle life performance versus lead acid. We’re projecting greater than 4,000 cycles for the lithium iron phosphate, whereas with lead acid you’re going to be limited to probably 300-500 cycles.
And another thing – these are very high-temperature environments where lithium ion does very well. Lithium iron phosphate in particular is able to get very big performance across a wide temperature range, whereas lead acid has problems in [military-style] environments and its life will be shortened.
MIL EMBEDDED: Any other factors?
BATTAGLINI: Case safety is another important factor. With the lithium iron phosphate, you’re getting a very abuse-tolerant chemistry that’s excellent for DoD applications. We’ve done considerable testing in iron phosphate, including shooting it with live ground fire, and there are no catastrophic events. It fails very gracefully even under those extreme conditions, which is very important. Overcharge it up to 20 volts and nothing will happen, no fires or anything like that. With other lithium chemistries under live round fire – you’re talking explosions and some very nasty things happening.
MIL EMBEDDED: What’s different about this lithium chemistry besides the lithium iron on the cathode? What about the battery’s electrolyte?
BATTAGLINI: The electrolyte is the same, but the cathode material is the biggest determinant for that, so it’s the chemistry of the materials. So that’s the long and short of the contract. The contract included the development of this new NATO 6T drop-in lead acid replacement in addition to an extension of work we were doing for what we call the NPS-1160 battery for TARDEC and Silent Watch. NPS-1160 is just a pure lithium battery, no ultra-capacitor. But that is a ruggedized module that’s been through various Mil-Spec testing and various safety testing.
MIL EMBEDDED: What the about cost differential between military battery versions available today and your battery that offers 4x the performance?
BATTAGLINI: Really, the correct way to look at that is: What is the total life-cycle cost? There will be less maintenance and more cycles with a lithium battery, as I mentioned – greater than 4,000 versus 300-500 with a lead acid battery. That means less replacement and virtually no maintenance with a lithium battery. Up front, out of the gate, yes lead acid is cheaper. But you have to look at the total cost of ownership over a number of years.
And, our battery is a drop-in replacement; it fits in the same footprint as an existing battery.
MIL EMBEDDED: Let’s talk about charging these batteries. Do you just wire one into the same application with the alternator on the vehicle or auxiliary generator?
BATTAGLINI: There are control electronics that come with our battery that will interface to the engine compartment and make sure it’s getting the right current and the right voltage. Typically, we can get the full charge in two hours. For lead acid, you’re looking at six hours.
MIL EMBEDDED: Do you have plans to market your battery civilian-wise at some point? I’ve got a friend with a pleasure yacht…
BATTAGLINI: Absolutely. There are different types of recreational vehicles, heavy-duty industrial vehicles that could benefit from more technology, so it’s certainly a dual-use type of program.
MIL EMBEDDED: Besides what we’ve already talked about, what differentiates International Battery in the market?
BATTAGLINI: We use an environmentally friendly, water-based process rather than solvents to manufacture the mixing and the coating of our batteries. It’s good for the environment, and eventually gets into a lower cost point in the industry. Something else that makes us different as a company is we make the large-format cells, and we make them here in the United States.
MIL EMBEDDED: Who are your competitors in this market?
BATTAGLINI: I would say some of our biggest competitors are A123 and SAFT, which have worked with TARDEC and other military divisions, and they’re both public companies.
MIL EMBEDDED: OK. Let’s move on to technology in general. Which other technologies is the military needing?
BATTAGLINI: We’re seeing a tremendous amount of interest from the Marines and the Army for using lithium iron in micro-grid applications and forward-based operating camps, for example, rolling out equipment to do a shelter that might have solar with it. Typically in the past, it might have used generators or lead acid batteries, but now they’re looking toward lithium to be a lighter-weight solution. So, combining renewable [energy] such as solar together with lithium batteries and even with the generator can optimize the use of all three – to get the use of fuel and make an easier solution for the soldiers in the field.
A trend for forward-operating missions is to operate their own microgrid. Forward-operating missions are where in theater some of the bigger operating camps could generate all their power independently, with reduced use of generators. That’s a big thing – to reduce the use of fuel in theater. Lithium ion batteries are a big part of that reduction.
The military wants to cut down on the use of generators so they want to hybridize the generator with the battery and solar, so you can run the generator a lot less. But when you do run the generator, run it at full efficiency, and whatever power you’re not using, dump into the battery. Then use the solar to do the same thing to continuously charge the battery from solar.
MIL EMBEDDED: So you might cut down the generator’s duty cycle within 24 hours by “x” percent?
BATTAGLINI: Yeah, it’s cut by more than 50 percent.
MIL EMBEDDED: But if you replace a generator with a battery, voltage issues arise?
BATTAGLINI: I don’t think you’re ever going to completely eliminate the generator, but it will be hybridized by using inverters to charge the battery/energy storage component to run on, creating a generator with much greater efficiency, using fuel for shorter periods of time.
International Battery 610-973-3730 www.internationalbattery.com