Battery Thermal Analysis and Characterization Activities

Research output: NRELManagement


While EDVs promise to curb America’s need for imported oil, designing high-performance, cost-effective, safe, and affordable energy-storage systems for these cars can present challenges, especially in the critical area of battery thermal control. As manufacturers strive to make batteries more compact and powerful, knowing how and where heat is generated becomes even more essential to the design of effective thermal-management systems. NREL’s thermal characterization activities provide developers, manufacturers and OEMs with the knowledge necessary to assure that batteries are designed to perform strongly, last a long time, and operate at maximum efficiency. The Vehicle Technologies Office has a goal to reduce the cost of electric vehicle battery packs by 2022 to less than $150/kWh with technologies that significantly reduce or eliminate the dependency on critical materials (such as cobalt) and utilize recycled material feedstocks [1]. In order to meet these metrics, the battery packs will need to have higher energy densities resulting in a very compact system. Even if the energy efficiency of the next generation of batteries increases, because of the compactness of these batteries more heat is being generated per unit volume with less heat transfer area. Thus, more advanced heat rejection systems are needed to keep the battery temperatures in the “goldilocks” zone that prevents acceleration of the aging mechanisms within the battery. The chemistries of advanced energy-storage devices—such as lithium-based batteries—are very sensitive to operating temperature. High temperatures degrade batteries faster while low temperatures decrease their power and capacity, affecting vehicle range, performance, and cost. Understanding heat generation in battery systems—from the individual cells within a module, to the inter-connects between the cells, and across the entire battery system—is imperative for designing effective thermal-management systems and battery packs.Inadequate or inaccurate knowledge of the thermal characteristics of batteries makes it difficult to design effective thermal-control systems. This can negatively affect lifespan, safety, and cost, ultimately resulting in negative consumer perception and reduced marketability. In 2012, Nissan had to address problems with the battery for its Leaf fully-electric vehicle (EV) losing capacity in the hot Arizona climate. Many attributed this issue to inadequate battery-thermal management. Accurately measuring battery thermal performance under various electrical loads and boundary conditions makes it possible for battery-system engineers to design effective thermal-management systems. NREL, with the funding from DOE VTO, has developed unique capabilities to measure the thermal properties of cells and evaluate thermal performance of active, air, and liquid cooled battery packs. Researchers also use electro-thermal finite element models to analyze the thermal performance of battery systems in order to aid battery developers with improved thermal designs. In addition, our lumped capacitance multi-node battery-vehicle-ambient model can predict the temporal temperature of batteries as a function drive cycle, ambient temperature, and solar radiation. These one-of-a-kind tools allow NREL to work with the battery manufacturers and OEMs to meet stringent EDV life, performance, cost, and safety goals.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

See the Vehicle Technologies Office Batteries 2019 Annual Progress Report at

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/MP-5700-78718


  • batteries
  • battery thermal performance
  • Vehicle Technologies Office


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