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Sensors Could Make Electric-Car Batteries Smaller and Cheaper

ARPA-E says better sensors and controls could allow automakers to cut battery size by 20 to 50 percent.

By Kevin Bullis on August 30, 2013

Why It Matters

High battery costs are limiting the sales of electric vehicles.
battery sensor

Cell sensor: Small fiber-optic sensors like the one shown here, developed at PARC, could help makers of electric cars get the most out of the vehicles’ batteries.

Electric-vehicle battery packs could shrink 20 to 30 percent, and make electric vehicles more affordable, if new sensors were developed to monitor the cells in a pack, according to the U.S. government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E). The agency says such sensors could have an even greater effect on hybrid gas-electric vehicle batteries, causing them to shrink by half.

Better sensors could tell what’s happening inside each of the hundreds of cells that make up an electric vehicle’s battery pack, allowing automakers to safely store more energy in them. A $30 million ARPA-E program that’s been underway for about a year is seeking to develop the necessary technology.

Developing new battery chemistries can take a decade or more, so increasing the capabilities of existing ones could be a faster way to reduce the cost of batteries, one of the main things holding back the adoption of electric cars (see “How Tesla Is Driving Electric Car Innovation” and “How Improved Batteries Will Make Electric Vehicles Competitive”).
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