NASA Joins Effort For Better Electric Vehicle Batteries, On Earth And In Space
February 12, 2014

NASA To Assist In Development Of Next Gen Electric Vehicle Batteries

[ Watch the Video: NASA Joins Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Project ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) have committed $36 million towards the development of more efficient electric vehicle power sources, the space agency announced on Tuesday.

Batteries that produce electricity are not only an essential part of life here on Earth, but they also are essential to keeping spacecraft operations. In order to improve their quality, the organizations have teamed up to fund 22 projects in 15 states as part of the Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy (RANGE) Storage Systems effort.

The project, which launched as NASA and APRA-E officials met with representatives from other agencies and institutions at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex late last month, is looking to increase electric vehicle use by improving their driving range and reliability through new designs and other solutions.

The overall goal is to create inexpensive, low-carbon emission power sources for automobiles and other vehicles, and as Karen Thompson, NASA's chief technologist at Kennedy, told those attending that January meeting, the agency has long worked to develop technology that can improve space projects and Earth-based applications.

“As I present some of the current technology work we are performing, please understand that almost every project I will describe involves not just NASA and not just the Kennedy Space Center,” Thompson explained in a statement. “We work in cooperation with many partners across other NASA centers, with other government agencies, with industry, and with academia. Some of our partners are international partners.”

Likewise, Chuck Taylor, a principal investigator at the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Game Changing Development (GCD) Program noted that the agency had throughout its history relied on battery-powered devices as part of both manned and unmanned missions into outer space.

Taylor also said that STMD was planning to unveil an advanced energy storage solution sometime in the near future, and called upon RANGE partners to “respond with proposals” for projects that would involve “devices such as astronaut extravehicular activity (spacewalking) suits and for our next generation robotic rovers.”

At the core of NASA’s involvement in the RANGE program is their search for enhanced power technology that can increase efficiency, provide significant mass and volume savings and allow for operation in the extreme heat, the extreme cold, or in areas of high radiation.

Since the Gemini program, NASA has been using fuel cells, which covert chemical energy from hydrogen or another substance into electricity through an oxygen-based chemical reaction, as their primary power source. Fuel cells are different from batteries in that they require a constant fuel source and an oxidizer to sustain the reaction.

However, the jeep-like Lunar Roving Vehicle used in the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions was battery powered, they added. The International Space Station (ISS) is powered primarily through massive solar arrays, though most US manned space vehicles and the Mars Pathfinder rover, Sojourner, have been powered at least in part by batteries.

“ARPA-E’s RANGE program seeks to improve EV driving range and reduce vehicle costs by re-envisioning the total EV battery system, rather than working to increase the energy density of individual battery cells,” NASA’s Bob Granath explained. “Some of the projects selected will focus on developing robust, or strong, battery chemistries and architectures that would improve vehicle driving range and overall battery performance.”