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Environmental chamber suppliers Unitemp & Espec are playing a critical role in supporting research at the University of Warwick which aims to establish new battery chemistries and manufacturing techniques.

The Energy Innovation Centre at WMG on Warwick University’s campus is one of the best equipped sites for battery research and development, with many global automotive partners. Mark Amor-Segan, principal research engineer, and Dr. Yue Guo, Deputy Head of the Energy Innovation Centre, explain how the unique facilities enable them to move from experimental chemistries right through to cell manufacture and battery deployment.

Based at the University, WMG can boast a facility that is unique in the UK. It includes pilot-scale production equipment that operates in the climate controlled environment facilitated by Unitemp. Mark Amor-Segan, Principal Research Engineer at the site’s Energy Innovation Centre, said: “The idea is that the manufacturing facility we’ve got here is a pilot scale facility. It allows companies in the UK, which are still generating huge amounts of innovation, new chemistries, and new technologies, to perfect their manufacturing techniques here on representative manufacturing equipment, making it easier for them to start manufacturing in the UK or be able to go to the Asia and American large cell manufacturing plants with all their know-how locked down.”

While controlling the humidity and temperature of the testing procedures is important, there is no guarantee how new chemistries or formats might behave, and batteries have the potential to fail should the conditions not be right, or the chemistry ill matched. The standards that govern such testing are formed by European Council for Automotive R&D (EUCAR), and the second most stringent level is EUCAR 6 which means it will tolerate fire, gas venting and what is termed ‘energetic release of materials’.

Finding the right chambers was important. First and foremost, tests needed to be reliable and safe but other factors also came into the equation; the amount of available test space for the given footprint, energy efficiency, and the ability to meet Eucar at level 6. Being a publicly funded body the university needs to put all projects out to tender, and Unitemp have now supplied 12 ESPEC units to the site. “It’s the quality, it’s because the level 6 requirement are an integral part of the product specification, and also the amount of test space compared to the floor area that the chambers take up is very good.” said Mark. Because the way they’re designed with ventilation air coming out of the top rather than at the back there is a lot of flexibility in where they can be positioned. They can be pushed up against a wall or virtually side by side. “In terms of the amount of test chamber space you can get into a given laboratory, then the ESPEC chambers are very good.  And our experience of using them is that they’re very reliable,” added Mark.

Energy efficiency has become another interesting factor and the newer Espec chambers are more energy efficient than previous generations, coupled with the new Digatron cell cyclers that can return energy back into the Grid.  “I don’t need huge amounts of air conditioning because there’s no losses in here,” commented Mark: “They cycle batteries in and out and all energy goes in and out of the Grid, it doesn’t go in and out of the room.  So, I can save significant costs on the air conditioning using this new technology.”

Mark added: “I think the final part of the puzzle is the support and after-sales service we get from Unitemp.  Our experience with some of the other manufacturers has not been great, whereas with Unitemp and the Espec chambers it’s been very good.  We’re running 24/7, we’ve got a multi-million pound programme of activity, we need the chambers to be reliable but also if anything happens we need them to be fixed quickly.”