My A123 modules got a beating at a combat robotics contest recently. They held
up fine. They were charged with a BMS on each cell. Discharge rates overlapped
my truck. These cells saw far more G-forces than normal. But I needed some
testing on the structural side of the design to make sure nothing stupid
occurred. The spot welds were of particular interest. The owner uses A123’s in
his robot. Now he’s sending 100 more for more packs to be made. Sweet. This time
however he has a different module layout he wants to try.

I used nickel as the conductor since copper is apparently next to impossible to
weld with a CD welder. I was told this and didn’t believe it. Then I tried to
for 3 days. Nope. Even as fancy as my CD welder is. Nickel is universal for cell
assembly. But not only is copper cheaper, it also is a better high current
conductor. That’s also what makes it harder to weld. It basically has no
resistance. Since I’m making over 70kw now, I have to make sure a module can
pass 100kw for the future (fingers crossed). If copper ever gets used, I’ll have
to buy/make an inverter type welder.

I just won’t be satisfied until I can spin tires on dry pavement at will!

I found on the Endless Sphere forum a BMS that matches my needs and philosophy of being simple, but with a processor. Here is the link. He talks about his design as he builds it in other threads. I just don’t see anything since late 2009 on the progress of the design. I’ve emailed him. We’ll see.

Here you can see his prototype layed out. It communicates using infrared leds. That helps get around the EMI issue.

I’ve ordered and will characterize and evaluate a minimal bms system called MiniBMS. Dimitri sells it from Florida. It’s all analog and uses a continuous loop of wire for signaling that one cell has gone too high or too low, by breaking the loop. A buzzer or any other indicator can be used to notify the driver. This single wire concept is suppose to have next to zero noise issues. I would be concerned that such a long length of wire could have inductance sufficient to create a high voltage spike when ever the loop is broken.

The only drawback is that the idle current is rated at 10ma. That uses 87.6 amp-hours per year from the pack. I consider that high. My own design uses 0.75ma at idle, or 6.57 amp-hours per year. I suspect it’s keeping an opto coupler enabled that accounts for the current draw. It won’t tell you what cell is having trouble, only that one of them is in trouble. Several loops could be used instead, breaking the pack into groups. This would at least narrow it down some. My pack will require 100 cells. So it’s important to me. It is suppose to have thermal protection on it as well to keep it from bypassing more than 1 amp.

The BMS board pictured here is $12 for each cell.

The control board pictured here is $30 for each vehicle.

The control board has an on board timer that allows an adjustable delay of the alarm enable. So if the driver momentarily loads the pack past the low voltage threshold, the alarm won’t sound. If the pack has a cell that is low for longer than the delay, then the alarm sounds. The control board uses a simple resistor and capacitor to achieve the delay.

The bms boards can fit any of the large format cells that have 6mm screws. The bms board is small and bolts to the negative terminal only. A length of wire is used to reach the positive terminal. The downside is that during assembly the board could be rotated into a neighboring cell and create a serious short circuit. So assembly has to be more carefully done than usual. More on this system when it arrives.

Lead acid battery’s are the most expensive technology in our vehicles on a $/mile basis. If a good lithium pack could be assembled, it would make for a lighter and far more efficient vehicle.

In the near term I’m building Lithium modules from ten A123 cells in parallel. That’s a 23ah module. Not much harder to make a 20 cell/46ah module. I’m guessing based on my records, that my truck could go 40 miles max on 23ah since the pack would be so much lighter than even the nicad that I currently have. 70-80% of 40 miles is 28-32 miles. That’s a reasonable range for my city driving needs. Each 10 cell module will run about $125 in just cell costs. That’s $3250 for 154lb bare pack. There still has to be a housing of some kind designed to hold the module. It will use up just one half of the battery box. Leaving the other half for another pack as funds allow. Factory packs weigh from 1400-2200lbs. Can you imagine the range and efficiency increases from loosing up to a ton of pack weight??

CAD model of 20 cell A123 module. Displaces 2 flooded BB600 nicads.

Right now the large format cells that most EV folks are using, have very poor regen capabilityof around 0.3C. On a 100ah cell, that’s only 30 amps of regen allowed. Our vehicles have up to 200a with stock settings. 250 amps with modified settings. A 10 cell module can handle 100 amps of charge/regen current for 15 minutes at a time. So I can easily see them handling 200 amps for 5-10 seconds when regen kicks in with modified software, under specific conditions. In other words they are very low impedance cells that can handle our regen needs nicely.

As for discharging, the A123 10 cell module can handle 700 amps of discharge continuously, and up to 1200 amps for 10 second bursts. Our vehicles can only discharge at 200 amps stock or 250 amps in a modified configuration. Here is the data sheet from A123 on this cell.

These cells have a very long cycle life. 1000 cycles at the max ratings listed. Double that with any care at all. The factory told Bill Dube that if a person can tolerate a loss of 50% capacity over time, then these cells can go 10,000 cycles. Most lead packs lose 50% capacity at 200-300 cycles.

For all of these reasons I’m building an industrial spot welder for making A123 modules. Not just for EV’s, but for the Combat Robotics crowd as well. They use these cells without a BMS and they still last a decent amount of time. Far less than they could, but those folks are happy with the performance and longevity.

Each bare 10 cell module will be 66mm wide x 260mm long. That’s 2.6″ x 10.24″. There has to be some kind of structure built to house the module and some stout connections designed so they can be connected together into a pack. I’m thinking of making the structure look a lot like a flooded nicad cell. In fact I wonder if a nicad cell housing could be adapted as the structure. These modules won’t need to be strapped tightly together like the large format cells require so they don’t over expand and die. These cells will never expand.

In theory, a 23ah pack would be 100 modules. This could fit into the Prizm battery tray. My truck holds 126 nicad cells in each half of the battery box. So it could hold 126 A123 modules per side, for a max of 252 modules per truck. The stock charger could not charge them up past 400v so only 100 modules would be fitted per side. A second 100 module pack could be added to the remaining side if desired, and wired in parallel.

I have a couple of dozen A123 cells and the 10,000 amp (5 ms) microprocessor controlled spot welder is under construction. I plan to make one 10 or 20 cell module to take the place of 1 or 2 nicads in my current pack, for testing.

If you have not noticed or heard, I’ve opened the US store for USE owners so they can get repairs and parts to keep their vehicles running. There are links on this blog to take you there. Enjoy!

The board layout for the 160ah Thundersky/Sky Energy lithium cell BMS is finished. I’d like to scale it down to also fit the 90-100ah cells, but that takes another board layout session since the 160ah cells are so large compared to the 90-100ah cells. For now getting the thermal paths, thermal cycling, and basic operation tested is a higher priority. Making a board that will fit both the 90-100ah and 160ah cells would be the next task. At this point it’s setup to bypass 3 amps. 5+ amps is possible.

The BMS will control the charger output as well as the motor control if any of the set points are hit. I’ll get the BMS to Dolphin interface board going as well.

Here is a paper doll of the 160 ah Thundersky BMS board that I’m developing. Someday I’ll fab a board using the Toner Transfer process. Always a helpful process before paying for a batch.

Here is an idea Mike Swift gave me for housing 10 parallel A123 cells in a similar shape to how the nicads are made. It’s tough to see all of the detail on the back of this receipt.

Isn’t debug fun? It sure separates the boys from the men, or me from my sanity Wink

I’ll be on vacation starting Monday. That excuse one for not having my BMS installed. #2 is that the second truck has taken all of my time to get corrections made to it’s various electrical systems. It’s basically done. Just needs a new pack. So the #1 truck is the tough vehicle to get a shielded cable from the pack to the interior of the truck. Once the cable is mounted through the wall of the pack, then adding the BMS is easy. Now I have Thundersky’s that I have been testing as well as 3 new 50ah Hi Power cells to test.

To look for noise it’s helpful to determine if it’s conducted or radiated noise. Steps that I use.

Conducted Emissions

1) I like to use clip on ferrite beads for initial debug. Easier and faster than adding components. The kind you see attached to a wall wart power supply or your pc monitor cable. 25-30mm long. 15-20mm in diameter. When picking them up from surplus locations, get a few different versions as you don’t know which RF material they are made from. Clip them onto both ends of the master bus cable. One at the master board and one at the first slave. Check for changes. Does the system work better? Verify with a scope, always.

2) Now repeat step one with the Slave bus, with all of the master bus ferrites removed. The slave bus could easily carry EMI/RFI and cause issues.

3) Repeat step one with ferrites on Master and Slave bus.

4) The shotgun approach is to just do both Master and Slave bus at the same time. But you won’t know the sources of noise as well.

If 1-4 improve function then it’s the noise is mostly conducted emissions. Although radiated emissions from the vehicle could turn into conducted emissions due to the huge amount of wiring we have to use.

5) Always twist pairs of cables to 4 turns per 25.4mm(1 inch) between slaves. Cordless drill works great for twisting wires together.

6) Use shielded cables with twisted pairs for Master to first slave cables.

Radiated Emissions

Here is a fantastic article on how to make a home made probe for sniffing EMI/RFI with your scope from a piece of coax a tiny ferrite bead, and some sandpaper. When I showed the crew at work this article, everyone had me making these probes for them.

Here is the probe I made from the article.

Above is the probe I made from the article.

Here is the probe I made from the article.

Above is the probe diagram from the article.

Below are scope shots using my probe on a project that has so much EMI that it smoked the processor and other drivers badly enough that my head with a full face helmet, hit the ground hard and made me unconscious. Had a concussion for a year. So EMI and I have become great friends!

There are EMI and RFI (aka E field) probes. An E field probe is just the ground of your scope probe tied to the probe tip. It shorts it in a dc sense. But for RFI, it’s a path to joy and harmony. If you make your probe ground lead a bit longer and coil it, the probe becomes much more sensitive to weak signals.

HBoth EMI and RFI probing examples of my concussion making machine (a home made self balancing scooter) are shown here.

Both EMI and RFI probing examples of my concussion making machine (a home made self balancing scooter) are shown here.

These scope shots showed me clearly at the time where the emissions were coming from. Each output from the processor got a 1k resistor to isolate it from the drivers. A 1k resistor was put on the output of the driver chips. These two steps did not reduce EMI, but did reduce it from getting into the sensitive parts. The next step was to reduce the EMI itself. I had used 250mm long ribbon cables for connecting the master board to two slaves (control board to 2 H-bridge boards). Normally the ribbon cables are about 50mm long. Reinstalling the 50mm cables did the trick. The EMI probe showed me the way. As you can see from the scope shots I also found EMI from the power supply inductor as well that I could follow with my handy EMI probe along a ground trace. That’s right. EMI was following the ground!!

So assume nothing, and measure everything!!

Here is Lanny’s work on putting Hi Power Lithium modules into Ford Ranger EV’s .

He’s really moved the Rangers ahead and out of the hands
of a terrible fate. I’ve exchanged a lot of email with him as I’ve
worked on Rangers. I’m hoping he has a good BMS picked out or on the
design board.

I’ve had the Thundersky equivalents of those Hi Power cells that Lanny
is using. The Hi Power’s that he is using I have ordered and will
arrive next week for testing.

The issue for us is how will lithium function in a real EV. Bench
testing has major limitations compared to real world. Real world
driving beats on batteries like no bench testing ever could.

I’m also in a group that has a working Lithium BMS that is being
majorly tweaked at the moment. It has no street time yet, but will
soon. I was suppose to have some street time already but this second
truck has taken all of my energy.

The good news for us is that a small or medium pack will fit our
trucks fairly easily. My nicad pack is about 1400 lbs lighter than the
bone stock Hawker pack. The Lithiums would be 1800 lbs lighter than a
bone stock Hawker pack. But each of the 100 cells has to have a BMS
module. All of those 100 cell modules have to talk to a master to keep
the driver informed.

The good news about using around 100 cells is that our chargers can be
tweaked to handle lithium. I’ve done it. The max voltage output of our
chargers is 400vdc. 100 cells could only charge to 4.0v each. 3.6v to
3.8v has been suggested. The 400v limit will help keep from
overcharging the cells. But they still have a mandatory requirement
for a BMS.

108 40ah cells would fit easily. 100 60ah cells will fit nicely. About
100 90ah cells with a second batt box will fit. The range due to the
light weight would be great. The lifespan in an EV has only been
tested to 25k miles. Then they were accidentally discharged overnight
and ruined in the blink of an eye.

40ah pack = $6.9k. 60ah pack = $9.6k. 90ah pack = $14.4k. All of these
prices are without a BMS. Right now a BMS looks to be $1.5k+ if you
assemble it your self.

There may be cold weather issues as was reported by a lithium user
some time ago. So testing is everything because toasting these babies
is vastly more expensive than buying the truck in the first place.

You’d think this format of Lithium would fit in the Prizm’s nicely.
But I have never heard of anyone trying.

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