NorthStar unveils Bluetooth remote wireless battery monitoring system



NorthStar, the US-Swedish lead-acid battery maker, released on October 25 a remote battery monitoring system called ACE which uses wireless Bluetooth connectivity.

The company says the system will, overall, increase the average battery life of its products by 30%.

“The ACE system extends battery life because problems can be identified immediately and the installer can tell by looking at, for example their iPad or iPhone, exactly where the battery is,” says CEO Hans Liden. “The Bluetooth connection is totally integrated into the battery so when the installer sets it up, they can choose the setting for the temperature, voltage and so on that’s appropriate for it.”

The firm says: “About 15 million to 20 million batteries are bought each year for telecom site backup power. More than half of these are replaced prematurely due to insufficient control throughout the product life cycle.

“Batteries are not properly managed and maintained in warehouses, installations are incorrectly performed and in operation the batteries are exposed to suboptimal power system settings, elevated temperatures and theft, resulting in shortened battery life.”

It also says that some 75% of early battery failures occur in the charging process — both undercharging and overcharging are damaging — and a prime cause of this is not ensuring that the rectifier settings match those of NorthStar’s battery. This can be spotted immediately via ACE.

The Bluetooth connection – which typically has a range of around 10 metres — is then linked into an internet connection allowing remote monitoring to be conducted anywhere nowadays. It is known as the concept of the Internet of Things.

The monitoring system, which will first be rolled out for stationary power applications such as telecoms base stations, may eventually be extended for automotive batteries. There would be limited applications for individual vehicles but remote monitoring of electric bus or truck fleets would be one potential area of application.

In September the firm signed a $500 million deal with Daimler to supply the German company’s Freightliner Cascadia trucks with high-performance pure lead AGM batteries.

There are other aspects to ACE that offer auxiliary benefits. The first would be quality control of batteries over their entire manufacturing life.

“Our ACE system is live from the moment each battery is ‘born’,” says Liden. “So any discrepancies, such as temperature abnormalities or state of charge, can be picked up even before the battery leaves the warehouse.”

This also means that when they come to the end of their working life they can be identified in their recycling stream. This is an issue that will be coming to a head given the dangers expected when lithium and lead acid batteries with similar appearance are mixed in the recycling process —with explosive consequences.

Frank Fleming, chief technology officer and a co-founder of NorthStar, speaking to Batteries and Energy Storage Technology at the Intelec conference in Austin, Texas — where the batteries were first displayed — said there were industry-wide implications following the introduction of ACE.

“Battery theft at remote and unmanned installations in both the developed and developing world is an increasing problem,” Fleming says. “At one level, identification of when batteries are stolen and where they might reappear in recycling has security implications that ACE can help. But there is a growing tendency for remote base stations — aware that their batteries might be stolen well before the end of their useful life to use cheaper, lower quality batteries from, say China or India. Or even worse, move to lithium batteries, which have no recycling value.

“Either way they damage the business of quality lead acid battery manufacturing.”

Liden says the cost of ACE — it has been under development for two years and will come on to the market in the first quarter of 2017 — would be less than a traditional monitoring system. “At the same time it is without the limitations of traditional systems, such as remote monitoring and upgrading difficulties, little or no interaction with power systems and little or no ability to support batteries during operation.

“We have worked closely with some of the larger OEMs and they are very excited about the products — it’s not been a hard sell,” he says.                             “People can see the extra value this will give them.” Liden did not wish to identify the OEMs.

NorthStar specializes in producing thin plate pure lead batteries. These have a better life and performance than traditional batteries. The firm was formed in 2000.