Smart Batteries with Sensors

Quick-charging batteries are in vogue now. Consumers are demanding more compact, quick-charging, lightweight, and high-energy-density batteries for all types of electronic devices including high-efficiency vehicles. Whatever be the working conditions, even during a catastrophe, batteries must be safe. Of late, the Lithium-ion battery technology has gained traction among designers and engineers as it satisfies several demands of consumers, while at the same time being cost-efficient. However, with designers pushing the limits of Li-ion battery technology capabilities, several of these requirements are now conflicting with one another.

While charging and discharging a Li-ion battery, many changes take place in it, like in the mechanics of its internal components, in its electrochemistry, and its internal temperature. The dynamics of these changes also affect the pressure in its interface within the housing of the battery. Over time, these changes affect the performance of the battery, and in extreme cases, can lead to reactions that are potentially dangerous.

Battery designers are now moving towards smart batteries with built-in sensors. They are using piezoresistive force and pressure sensors for analyzing the effects charging and discharging have on the batteries in the long run. They are also embedding these sensors within the battery housing to help alert users to potential battery failures. Designers are using thin, flexible, piezoresistive sensors for capturing relative changes in pressure and force.

Piezoresistive sensors are made of semi-conductive material sandwiched between two thin, flexible polyester films. These are passive elements acting as force-sensitive resistors within an electrical circuit. With no force or pressure applied, the sensors show a high resistance, which drops when the sensor has a load. With respect to conductance, the response to a force is a linear one as long as the force is within the range of the sensor’s capabilities. Designers arrange a network of sensors in the form of a matrix.

When two surfaces press on the matrix sensor, it sends analog signals to the electronics, which converts it into a digital signal. The software displays this signal in real-time to offer the activity occurring across the sensing area. The user can thereby track the force, locate the region undergoing peak pressure, and identify the exact moment of pressure changes.

The matrix sensors offer several advantages. These include about 2000-16000 sensing nodes, element spacing as low as 0.64 mm, capable of measuring pressure up to 25,000 psi, temperature up to 200 °C, and scanning speeds up to 20 kHz.

Designers also use single-point piezoresistive force sensors for measuring force within a single sensing area. They integrate such sensors with the battery as they are thin and flexible, and they can also function as a feedback system for an operational amplifier circuit in the form of a voltage divider. Depending on the circuit design, the user can adjust the force range of the sensor by changing its drive voltage and the resistance of the feedback. This allows the user complete control over measuring parameters like maximum force range, and the measurement resolution within the range. As piezoresistive force sensors are passive devices with linear response, they do not require complicated electronics and work with minimum filtering.