DST Group began the design and construction of the world-class Battery Safety Research Facility several years ago, as part of its endeavour to provide relevant scientific advice to the RAN, with initial testing commencing last year in the new facility.
The new high-tech facility has a custom designed chamber, which Defence researcher Kane Ivory said offers an impressive range of features for the group's research.
"The chamber has an impressive suite of safety features and instrumentation, including electrical, temperature and heat flux sensors, infra-red imaging and an exhaust system with integrated gas analysis for real-time calorimetry measurements," Ivory said.
"We’re now close to being at full operational capability for our new facility at DST."
Ivory and his DST colleagues have been working to build on the Li-ion capabilities through collaboration with US experts at the Naval Surface Warfare Centre in the US.
Through their research, Ivory said the failures they have observed from commercial applications has stressed the need for increased research in this field.
"There is a large range of safety tests to conduct on lithium-ion batteries; it boils down to identifying the worst case failure scenario(s) for a particular application and capturing the relevant information on how and when the failure occurs to enable a system design to effectively mitigate that failure," he said.
DST Group said the unique requirements for military applications, and in particular submarines, combined with the environmental conditions for the RAN's areas of operation, add an additional level of complexity and reduce the applicability of much of the existing literature.
Li-ion batteries are one of the new technologies that many navies around the world are considering for future upgrades of their submarine fleets. Australia’s existing Collins Class submarines are conventionally powered by diesel engines and a lead-acid main storage battery.
The potential benefits of Li-ion technology include improved endurance (particularly at sprint speeds), efficiency and operational life, but they come with new safety risks, primarily due to the flammable nature of the electrolyte used in Li-ion batteries, DST Group said.
The new DST research facility will not only allow researchers to provide advice to the RAN if the technology becomes necessary to its capabilities in the future, but will also allow for further investigation in a number of areas, including the impact of different battery state of charge and how aged cells behave compared to new cells during failure.
"This research will give us a better understanding of potential issues over the life of Li-ion batteries and enable DST to provide relevant advice to the Navy if it becomes necessary to assess any lithium-ion main storage battery designs in the future," said Ivory.