The SME consortium behind the ICAB project wishes to address a major market opportunity by developing a new battery management system (BMS) for large scale lithium-ion battery packs, targeted primarily at electromobility applications. Specifically, the consortium wants to develop an innovative integrated circuit for performing advanced battery management, at lowered cost of production, which enables improved reliability, efficiency and safety compared with currently available BMS solutions. ICAB’s final outcome will be a cutting-edge technology which could play a significant role in the mass introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) on the market worldwide.

The ICAB project will increase the competitiveness of the participating SME manufacturers and suppliers by providing them with state-of-the-art technology which:

  • Meets high quality and recent safety standards, such as the ISO26262 – Functional Safety in Road Vehicles
  • Improves battery performance - extends battery life and vehicle driving range
  • Supports any lithium chemistry and battery pack size
  • Drives manufacturing costs down significantly by means of integrated circuit technology
  • Reduces the size, cost, parasitic power consumption and weight of the battery pack
  • Satisfies EV consumers’ demands and meets the requirements of the automotive industry

The ICAB project will play a significant role for the SMEs’ core business and future business strategy and will also leverage the potential of their portfolio of products within the automotive industry. Furthermore, the ICAB project will generate increased competitiveness for the SME value chain; for the end-users; and for the EU as a whole. However, while the companies in the ICAB consortium have the capacity to produce and market the new product, they lack the financial resources, as well as the research expertise that enable the required technological development; hence, the procurement of cross disciplinary scientific knowledge and collaboration from several European RTD performers is essential. Therefore, the consortium has identified the Research for the Benefit of SMEs Programme as the suitable route for overcoming the technological and financial barriers associated with the achievement of the project’s objectives.

Battery management systems – the need for innovation and the market opportunity

Globally, the emergence of electric vehicles has become a significant trend in the automotive industry due to the continued increase of crude oil and gas prices, and to the technology push from new and more powerful rechargeable batteries. Political objectives such as reducing CO2emissions, decreasing dependency on oil and promoting energy efficiency are also important drivers of electric mobility.

Recently, the European Commission has published a strategy to cut most of the EU greenhouse gas emissions and transforming Europe into a competitive 'low-carbon' economy by mid-century. This would involve cuts to the EU's greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels) and intermediate cuts of 25% by 2020, 40% by 2030 and 60% by 2040. These targets will only be possible by the integration of electric mobility into our systems of transport and by the replacement of fossil fuel vehicles. In this context, governments of several countries are promoting EV market uptake by providing subsidies for the automotive industry as well as incentives for the consumers (e.g., exemptions from vehicle registration tax and rebates on the cost of EVs). The population of EVs is expected to reach 3.3 million in the EU by 2020 and more than 50 million in 2030.

Nevertheless, electric vehicles are still too expensive, when compared with fossil fuel vehicles, and the procurement and replenishment of batteries are largely responsible for the high price of EVs. Additionally, consumers are reluctant to invest in EV technology because of safety concerns with respect to lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and also due to the limited range capabilities of EVs.

Battery management systems play a key role in optimizing batteries in terms of endurance, performance and reliability, and represent up to 15% of the battery cost. Despite the great efforts that have been made to promote electric mobility, improvement of BMS technology is still a challenge. It is vital to ensure that the battery pack is operated in a safe way, that the performance is optimized in order to extend the vehicle range, and that battery life is maintained to the maximum extent possible. Moreover, the cost of production will only decrease when standardized solutions start to become available, thus allowing for economies of scale. So far, many automotive OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) have built alliances and joint ventures with lithium battery manufacturers. This means that the current BMS platforms certified to automotive standards are typically tailored for one car model from a specific OEM, and therefore expensive, inflexible and not commercially available for other customers. Nevertheless, recently some major OEMs of EVs have opted to forego joint ventures and have instead sourced batteries from multiple producers given the still evolving race for development of cheaper, higher capacity and safer battery packs.

The development in battery technology and other EV components is a critical issue in the future market uptake of EVs. There is a considerable need for versatile, reliable and cost-effective BMS platforms. It is expected that the trend in the automotive industry toward greener and more efficient cars will provide significant demand for breakthrough battery management technology in the near future. The BMS market for automotive lithium batteries is estimated to be as large as 7,100 million euros by 2020, with growth continuing also in the longer term.