Lithium ion batteries come to UPS

The next COTS technology waiting to take hold in process automation is lithium-ion batteries.

By Dan Hebert, PE, senior technical editor, Control

Remember when the PC was introduced back in the early 1980s? Most thought it would never be reliable enough for any type of process automation application. Fast forward 35 years, and it's impossible to find a DCS without PCs at the server level, and many end users are employing industrial PCs as real-time controllers.

Ethernet is another commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology that has taken the process automation world by storm after much early skepticism. End users were wary of its lack of determinism, inability to deliver power and high cost. These challenges were met by Ethernet speed increases, Power over Ethernet and ever improving price/performance ratios.

And along with Ethernet, other COTS communications technologies are moving into the industrial realm including the Internet, web servers, browsers, cellular networks and Wi-Fi. Many process control system components now contain a built-in web server and an Ethernet port. Connecting them to the Internet gives  worldwide browser access, often powered by cellular communication networks or Wi-Fi.

According to Bedrock Automation, the next COTS technology waiting to take hold in process automation is lithium-ion batteries. They're a much better foundation for uninterruptible power systems (UPS) than lead-acid batteries.

"Automotive electrification and consumer mobility has been the catalyst for significant battery improvements in the past decade, with emphasis on lithium-ion chemistries," says Albert Rooyakkers, Bedrock's  founder, CTO and vice-president of engineering.

According to Rooyakkers, Bedrock has "developed the next-generation industrial control system with a revolutionary electromagnetic backplane architecture and deeply embedded cybersecurity for the highest levels of system performance, security and reliability at the lowest system cost."

Lithium-ion batteries charge faster, can be up to five times lighter and require three times lower volume than lead-acid batteries with equivalent energy capacity and cycle life.

A key component of Bedrock's new control system is its UPS, which also can be used to power control systems from other suppliers. "Lithium-ion batteries are sealed and can be mounted in any orientation in our UPS, while lead-acid batteries must be vented and mounted upright. Lead-acid batteries can also give off gas or leak toxic chemicals in the event of damage or overcharging, preventing them from being sealed," explains Rooyakkers.

"Lithium-ion batteries charge faster than lead-acid, can be up to five times lighter and require three times lower volume than lead-acid batteries with equivalent energy capacity and cycle life," adds Rooyakkers.

"All batteries consist of multiple cells, with the number dependent upon the power required. One design method is to stack the cells and then monitor, control and contain the stack. This is not the best way, although it's common with lead-acid designs," he notes.

"With lithium-ion batteries, each cell is engineered as an independent system in a parallel electronic topology. Our UPS battery pack is thus less vulnerable to the status of a single cell, and the charge and discharge of each cell can be independently optimized for safety and performance," continues Rooyakkers.

Bedrock assembles the lithium-ion cells, electronics and connectors into a cell "vessel" to ensure optimal alignment, containment and separation from every other cell in the pack. The vessel provides for stress-free thermal expansion and contraction during charge cycles and temperate extremes, as well as protection against vibration and shock.

"Driven by severe criteria including NEMA 4X and FIPS 140, along with the requirement to withstand the most extreme physical stresses, the result is a thick-walled aluminum monolith. Our UPS is assembled in a multi-ton press with water tight connectors, and it can be field-mounted in any orientation, either inside or outside of field enclosures," says Rooyakkers. 

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