BLUEBIRD - Fuel Cell & Battery Cartridge Technology

A British sports car concept featuring the Bluebird FE cartridge instant energy transfer recharging system



The Bluebird™ cartridge exchange system is suitable for use with fuel cells and/or batteries. This feature is considered to be the versatility EV's need that is missing at the moment, and is one of the reasons that there are no fuel cell cars in mass production at the moment - although, that is the plan. So, why not hedge your bets? In the circumstances it seems crazy not to. 


Rather, we put it down to a lack of forward planning. With fuel cells still way off the mark in economic terms, a car that can swap between the two technologies at the flick of a switch, seems to us to be just the ticket.




The Ecostar club racer, on the drawing board at the moment @BMS




The Ecostar DC50™ 20Kw/hr cartridge will have the same connectors and loading (Bluebird) system but will be smaller as it has to be shoehorned into a more compact area than would be usual in any production EV that we might propose. The cartridge in this care will be 2400 x 300 x 240mm (94.5 X 11.75 X 9.5"), within which 28 x 3.6v x 200Ah lithium polymer cells will fit with ease (or similar). These cells measure 280 x 182 x 71mm and weigh 5.6Kg each. Thus our cartridge when using lithium battery technology will weigh: 5.6 x 28 = 156.8Kg + the weight of the cartridge and cabling (23+5Kg) give us 184.8Kg (407lbs). That's a whole lot less than when it was filled with lead-acid traction batteries for demonstrations.



Another example of a Bluebird™ smart-city "Universal" energy cartridge with 8 cubic feet capacity - so between 20-40kW hours of energy storage - depending on the chemistry used. This unit is suitable for a number of existing super-mini cars - and is compatible with the Bluebird™ service station prototype that is being proposed for a test town - such as in the Devonshire project. This cartridge may contain lithium batteries or fuel cell storage medium.





Elementary my dear Watson. To lift a cartridge of this mass into position, a distance of some 150mm, will in theory require a .75Kw motor (or two motors to the equivalent wattage) operating for 0.5 of a second (now that is fast). The old formula for 1 horsepower is the ability to lift 550lbs one foot in one second. Translated to metric that is 249.5kg 300mm in one second (well above the 184.9Kg of our cartridge). One horsepower is equivalent to 746 watts. The beauty about electric horsepower, is that there is no manure.


In practical terms we don't want the weight of large electric motors onboard, except for the tractions motors, even though this is accepted practice in IC engined cars: in that they need a starter motor.





Two 24 volt motor examples, 250w direct drive 6mm chain sprocket and 450w with a 6.6:1 reduction box and 12mm chain sprocket.



It is much better to use 2 x 250w motors that would in theory be capable of lifting our cartridge 300mm in 1.5 seconds. Allow 60% for total losses in transmission takes us to 2.5 seconds lift time, the gearing for which should reduce a (sample) 2750 rpm output to 50 rpm at the output shaft (55:1 ratio) for a (sample) 180 degree rotation = lift sequence in 3 seconds (with reserve torque). Again being conservative, even though you might wish we were liberal and not labour the point.


The total amperage draw for a lift in 3 seconds @ 24 volts = 65A. A small lithium battery pack as commonly used by modelers would suffice for this duty, weighing in at 1Kg or less. The motors will weigh around 6Kg for inexpensive off the shelf items. you might agree that this weight penalty is well worth the ability to exchange cartridges using an onboard system. We can make the onboard system lighter still if we use smaller motors and wait for 6 seconds. At these sorts of recharging speeds, what's another few seconds? Of course, it's a different story for a club racer version of the Ecostar, when 3 seconds could cost you a race.




The bad news is that while lithium batteries are lighter than lead-acid, nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal hydride cells, they are expensive at around $260 per cell, making a cartridge $7,300 a go - or £4,334 at cost. That sounds frighteningly expensive.




The Ecostar city car promises the fastest battery cartridge exchanges - and it does it by itself with built in loaders - so reducing infrastructure costs significantly. Indeed, you don't need dedicated service stations to kickstart the system, just friendly garages who will have cartridges on their forecourts for the cars to pick up as they deposit their spent cartridge. This is roughly 2 times faster than the 2013 demonstration by Tesla, which was in itself twice as fast as filling a conventional petrol car, around 90 seconds.





Okay, so 7,300 / 2000 = $3.66 per recharge in depreciation (£2.17). Add to that the electricity to charge the pack (21 x £.14 = £2.94) and it costs us £5.11 per recharge to travel some 150 miles at daytime electricity tariffs, being ultra conservative in our estimations. That is the equivalent of 172 miles per gallon (where in the UK it is £5.87 a gallon of unleaded petrol) or 3.4 pence per mile (£0.034). Yup, that is three point four pence per mile, compared to 11.74 pence per mile (£0.1174) for a car that returns 50mpg.


Finally then, electric cars can compete with petrol cars on price and range. Now imagine service stations that re-charge replacement cartridges at off-peak prices. Add to that the higher price of servicing a petrol engine (oil changes, filters, spark plugs, etc) and there is no contest. Anyone who is economy minded must drive an EV.





Some of the most popular lithium iron phosphate batteries on the market. 3.6 volt cells and 200Ah and 180Ah capacities. The prices vary from one manufacturer and one supplier to another.



Ecostar BE4, DC motors and 50kW  Ecostar DC50 electric sports car with instant recharging


The ECOSTAR DC50 (BE4) as it began - is a two seat sports car project with front wheel drive and 50kW direct current (DC) electric motors. The roof will carry solar panels to supplement the lithium ion batteries or hydrogen fuel in cartridges as a range extender between instant energy transfer pit-stops. The cartridge may contain batteries, fuels cells, or a mix of batteries and fuel cells. The technology future proofs vehicles against battery and/or fuel cell advances - as an aid to the transition to a zero carbon lifestyle.  The challenge for the ECOSTAR is to reduce the long standing 1 minute recharging world record, to less that 30 seconds. We know it is possible to get this down below 10 seconds, but our finances are running on empty, so we are aiming low. Watch this car turn into a motoring gem, as it rises like a Phoenix from the ashes. What color to paint it? There's no flies on us.





Although there are currently no fuel cell vehicles available for commercial sale, over 20 fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) prototypes and demonstration cars have been released since 2009. Demonstration models include the Honda FCX Clarity, Toyota FCHV-adv, and Mercedes-Benz F-Cell. As of June 2011 demonstration FCEVs had driven more than 4,800,000 km (3,000,000 mi), with more than 27,000 refuelings. Demonstration fuel cell vehicles have been produced with "a driving range of more than 400 km (250 mi) between refueling". They can be refueled in less than 5 minutes. The U.S. Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technology Program claims that, as of 2011, fuel cells achieved 53–59% efficiency at one-quarter power and 42–53% vehicle efficiency at full power, and a durability of over 120,000 km (75,000 mi) with less than 10% degradation. In a Well-to-Wheels simulation analysis, that "did not address the economics and market constraints", General Motors and its partners estimated that per mile traveled, a fuel cell electric vehicle running on compressed gaseous hydrogen produced from natural gas could use about 40% less energy and emit 45% less greenhouse gasses than an internal combustion vehicle. A lead engineer from the Department of Energy whose team is testing fuel cell cars said in 2011 that the potential appeal is that "these are full-function vehicles with no limitations on range or refueling rate so they are a direct replacement for any vehicle. For instance, if you drive a full sized SUV and pull a boat up into the mountains, you can do that with this technology and you can't with current battery-only vehicles, which are more geared toward city driving."

Some experts believe, however, that fuel cell cars will never become economically competitive with other technologies or that it will take decades for them to become profitable. In July 2011, the chairman and CEO of General Motors, Daniel Akerson, stated that while the cost of hydrogen fuel cell cars is decreasing: "The car is still too expensive and probably won't be practical until the 2020-plus period, I don't know."

In 2012, Lux Research, Inc. issued a report that stated: "The dream of a hydrogen economy ... is no nearer". It concluded that "Capital cost ... will limit adoption to a mere 5.9 GW" by 2030, providing "a nearly insurmountable barrier to adoption, except in niche applications". The analysis concluded that, by 2030, PEM stationary market will reach $1 billion, while the vehicle market, including forklifts, will reach a total of $2 billion. Other analyses cite the lack of an extensive hydrogen infrastructure in the U.S. as an ongoing challenge to Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle commercialization. In 2006, a study for the IEEE showed that for hydrogen produced via electrolysis of water: "Only about 25% of the power generated from wind, water, or sun is converted to practical use." The study further noted that "Electricity obtained from hydrogen fuel cells appears to be four times as expensive as electricity drawn from the electrical transmission grid. ... Because of the high energy losses [hydrogen] cannot compete with electricity." Furthermore, the study found: "Natural gas reforming is not a sustainable solution". "The large amount of energy required to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds (water, natural gas, biomass), package the light gas by compression or liquefaction, transfer the energy carrier to the user, plus the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity with fuel cells, leaves around 25% for practical use."

Despite this, several major car manufacturers have announced plans to introduce a production model of a fuel cell car in 2015. In 2013, Toyota has stated that it plans to introduce such a vehicle at a price of less than US$100,000. Mercedes-Benz announced that they would move the scheduled production date of their fuel cell car from 2015 up to 2014, asserting that "The product is ready for the market technically. ... The issue is infrastructure." At the Paris Auto Show in September 2012, Hyundai announced that it plans to begin producing a commercial production fuel cell model (based on the ix35) in December 2012 and hopes to deliver 1,000 of them by 2015. Other manufacturers planning to sell fuel cell electric vehicles commercially by 2016 or earlier include General Motors (2015), Honda (2015 in Japan), and Nissan (2016).

The Obama Administration sought to reduce funding for the development of fuel cell vehicles, concluding that other vehicle technologies will lead to quicker reduction in emissions in a shorter time. Steven Chu, the United States Secretary of Energy, stated in 2009 that hydrogen vehicles "will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years". In 2012, however, Chu stated that he saw fuel cell cars as more economically feasible as natural gas prices have fallen and hydrogen reforming technologies have improved. Joseph Romm, a critic of hydrogen cars, devoted two articles in 2014 to updating his critique. He states that FCVs still have not overcome the following issues: high cost of the vehicles, high fueling cost, and a lack of fuel-delivery infrastructure. "It would take several miracles to overcome all of those problems simultaneously in the coming decades." Most importantly, he says, "FCVs aren't green" because of escaping methane during natural gas extraction and when hydrogen is produced, as 95% of it is, using the steam reforming process. He concludes that renewable energy cannot economically be used to make hydrogen for an FCV fleet "either now or in the future." Greentech Media's analyst reached similar conclusions in 2014.





Scientists have identified a reason why lithium batteries in laptops and mobile phones may overheat and catch fire. Cambridge University researchers said the growth of metal fibres, called dendrites, could cause short circuits.


Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, normally used to identify elements in molecules, has been adapted to "see" how the dendrites develop. Researchers said it could help solve fire safety problems which have held up the development of lithium batteries. Lithium battery technology is said to be crucial for progress on the next generation of electric cars. 


When current lithium batteries are charged quickly, minute lithium dendrites can form on carbon anodes. These fibres can cause short circuits, causing the battery to rapidly overheat and catch fire, Professor Clare Grey, of Cambridge University's chemistry department is quoted as saying:

"These dead lithium fibres have been a significant impediment to the commercialisation of new generations of higher capacity batteries,"

"Fire safety must be solved before we can get to the next generation of lithium-ion batteries and before we can safely use these batteries in a wider range of transport applications.

"Now that we can monitor dendrite formation inside batteries, we can identify when they are formed and under what conditions.

"Our new method should allow researchers to identify which conditions lead to dendrite formation and to rapidly screen potential fixes to prevent the problem."




Cambridge University researchers monitoring fast charging that is causing lithium batteries to catch fire. Short circuits from dendrites are to blame.





The three primary functional components of a lithium-ion battery are the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. The anode of a conventional lithium-ion cell is made from carbon, the cathode is a metal oxide, and the electrolyte is a lithium salt in an organic solvent.

The most commercially popular anode material is graphite. The cathode is generally one of three materials: a layered oxide (such as lithium cobalt oxide), a polyanion (such as lithium iron phosphate), or a spinel (such as lithium manganese oxide).

The electrolyte is typically a mixture of organic carbonates such as ethylene carbonate or diethyl carbonate containing complexes of lithium ions. These non-aqueous electrolytes generally use non-coordinating anion salts such as lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6), lithium hexafluoroarsenate monohydrate (LiAsF6), lithium perchlorate (LiClO4), lithium tetrafluoroborate (LiBF4), and lithium triflate (LiCF3SO3).

Depending on materials choices, the voltage, capacity, life, and safety of a lithium-ion battery can change dramatically. Recently, novel architectures using nanotechnology have been employed to improve performance.

Pure lithium is very reactive. It reacts vigorously with water to form lithium hydroxide and hydrogen gas. Thus, a non-aqueous electrolyte is typically used, and a sealed container rigidly excludes water from the battery pack.

Lithium ion batteries are more expensive than NiCd batteries but operate over a wider temperature range with higher energy densities, while being smaller and lighter. They are fragile and so need a protective circuit to limit peak voltages.



Li-ion cells are available in various formats, which can generally be divided into four groups:

* Small cylindrical (solid body without terminals, such as those used in laptop batteries) 
* Large cylindrical (solid body with large threaded terminals) 
* Pouch (soft, flat body, such as those used in cell phones) 
* Prismatic (semi-hard plastic case with threaded terminals used in vehicle traction packs) 


The lack of case gives pouch cells the highest energy density; however, pouch cells (and prismatic cells) require an external means of containment to prevent expansion when their state-of-charge (SOC) level is high.


Varta 40 volt 40 amp hour litium ion battery pack


Varta lithium-ion battery, Museum Autovision, Altlussheim, Germany




Lithium batteries were first proposed by M.S. Whittingham, now at Binghamton University, while working for Exxon in the 1970s. Whittingham used titanium(II) sulfide as the cathode and lithium metal as the anode.

The reversible intercalation in graphite and intercalation into cathodic oxides was also already discovered in the 1970s by J.O. Besenhard at TU Munich. He also proposed the application as high energy density lithium cells. Electrolyte decomposition and solvent co-intercalation into graphite were severe drawbacks for long battery cycle life.

Primary lithium batteries in which the anode is made from metallic lithium pose safety issues. As a result, lithium-ion batteries were developed in which both anode and cathode are made of a material containing lithium ions.

In 1979, John Goodenough demonstrated a rechargeable cell with high cell voltage in the 4V range using lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) as the positive electrode and lithium metal as the negative electrode. This innovation provided the positive electrode material which made LIBs possible. LiCoO2 is a stable positive electrode material which acts as a donor of lithium ions, which means that it can be used with a negative electrode material other than lithium metal. By enabling the use of stable and easy-to-handle negative electrode materials, LiCoO2 opened a whole new range of possibilities for novel rechargeable battery systems.

In 1977, Samar Basu demonstrated electrochemical intercalation of lithium in graphite at the University of Pennsylvania. This led to the development of a workable lithium intercalated graphite anode at Bell Labs (LiC6) to provide an alternative to the lithium metal battery.

In 1980, Rachid Yazami also demonstrated the reversible electrochemical intercalation of lithium in graphite. The organic electrolytes available at the time would decompose during charging if used with a graphite negative electrode, preventing the early development of a rechargeable battery which employed the lithium/graphite system. Yazami used a solid electrolyte to demonstrate that lithium could be reversibly intercalated in graphite through an electrochemical mechanism. The graphite anode discovered by Yazami is currently the most commonly used anode in commercial lithium ion batteries.

In 1983, Dr. Michael Thackeray, Goodenough, and coworkers identified manganese spinel as a cathode material. Spinel showed great promise, given its low-cost, good electronic and lithium ion conductivity, and three-dimensional structure, which gives it good structural stability. Although pure manganese spinel fades with cycling, this can be overcome with chemical modification of the material. Manganese spinel is currently used in commercial cells.

In 1985, Akira Yoshino assembled a prototype cell using carbonaceous material into which lithium ions could be inserted as the anode, and as the cathode lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2), which is stable in air. By using an anode material without metallic lithium, safety was dramatically improved over batteries which used lithium metal. The use of lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) enabled industrial-scale production to be achieved easily. This was the birth of the current lithium-ion battery.


Lithium ion battery pack in the Nissan Leaf EV


Nissan Leaf's lithium-ion battery pack




In 1991, Sony and Asahi Kasei released the first commercial lithium-ion battery.

In 1989, Goodenough and Arumugam Manthiram of the University of Texas at Austin showed that cathodes containing polyanions, e.g., sulfates, produce higher voltages than oxides due to the inductive effect of the polyanion.

In 1996, Goodenough, Akshaya Padhi and coworkers identified lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) and other phospho-olivines (lithium metal phosphates with the same structure as mineral olivine) as cathode materials.

In 2002, Yet-Ming Chiang and his group at MIT showed a substantial improvement in the performance of lithium batteries by boosting the material's conductivity by doping it with aluminium, niobium and zirconium. The exact mechanism causing the increase became the subject of widespread debate.

In 2004, Chiang again increased performance by utilizing iron phosphate particles of less than 100 nanometers in diameter. This decreased particle density almost one hundredfold, increased the cathode's surface area and improved capacity and performance. Commercialization led to a rapid growth in the market for higher capacity LIBs, as well as a patent infringement battle between Chiang and Goodenough.

As of 2011, lithium-ion batteries account for 67% of all portable secondary battery sales in Japan.






The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen (FCH) JTI is focused on securing long-term clean energy supplies for Europe in addition to the reduction of greenhouse gas emission from the energy and transport sectors. 


A fuel cell is basically an electric chemical converter of fuel directly into electricity and heat, rather than traditional combustion. The fuel we are using is hydrogen, it is a very  environmentally friendly gas. We try to improve the technology in both making hydrogen and converting hydrogen into cheaper, greener electricity – more efficiently.


According to the US Dept. of Energy, fuel cells will cost $30-$50 per kw-hr of output by 2017, depending on production volume. To put this number in perspective, Tesla battery packs are estimated to cost over $200 per kw-hr of output today and may fall to $140-175 per kw-hr by 2017. In all likelihood, fuel cell vehicles will cost less than battery electric vehicles by the end of the decade (barring some major decrease in battery costs, of course).


The estimated cost of building a hydrogen filling station is $3-5 million dollars, according to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. While that's definitely a lot of money, a standard gasoline filling station costs about $2 million to construct (according to the same NREL report).


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a functioning wind-powered hydrogen filling station in Boulder, Colorado that uses wind power to create hydrogen via electrolysis. German energy giant Linde will begin producing hydrogen at commercial scale via wind power by 2015. There are also solar panels in the research and testing phase that can break water down into hydrogen and oxygen via photoelectric synthesis and do so at extraordinary efficiency levels.


Battery electric vehicles have a low operating cost, and they plug in to an existing (and generally efficient) energy grid. However, most BEVs at this time can't be refueled in 3 minutes, and (as of now) can't go 300+ miles between refueling. BEVs aren't really feasible for use in pickup trucks and SUVs, at least not without serious compromises in tow and payload capacities and/or driving range.Fuel cell vehicles, on the other hand, have long range, fast refueling, and could easily be used in trucks or SUVs without sacrificing payload or tow capacity.




The industry still faces one major challenge in the creation of new hydrogen-based energy products – the absence of a developed marketplace.

We have one huge challenge to overcome in that there is no market for fuel cells or hydrogen. It’s the chicken and the egg problem. There is no hydrogen, because there are no applications, because there is no fuel cell car, because there is no hydrogen. 


An obvious solution to this chicken and egg situation is to make cars with a universal cartridge, such as the Bluebird™ system. These cartridges may contain fuel cells and storage tanks, rather than batteries. Thus, a car that is purchased with a battery cartridge, may change to a fuel cell cartridge at any dealership. Problem solved.



The JTI was re-launched at the start of 2014 with extra funding and a focus on developing “clean, efficient and affordable fuel cells and hydrogen technologies”. It is important to invest in energy storage technology.


We are very happy to see that Commission proposals are set to receive an important increase in our budget, with a focus on energy storage – energy storage is something mankind has have never come to terms with and we have never found a good solution to store energy in large quantities. The problem is not the availability of the energy, it’s the storage.”













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About Battery Management Systems

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