What is a Battery Management System?

Definition

Battery management system (BMS) is technology dedicated to the oversight of a battery pack, which is an assembly of battery cells, electrically organized in a row x column matrix configuration to enable delivery of targeted range of voltage and current for a duration of time against expected load scenarios. The oversight that a BMS provides usually includes:

  • Monitoring the battery
  • Providing battery protection
  • Estimating the battery’s operational state
  • Continually optimizing battery performance
  • Reporting operational status to external devices

Here, the term “battery” implies the entire pack; however, the monitoring and control functions are specifically applied to individual cells, or groups of cells called modules in the overall battery pack assembly. Lithium-ion rechargeable cells have the highest energy density and are the standard choice for battery packs for many consumer products, from laptops to electric vehicles. While they perform superbly, they can be rather unforgiving if operated outside a generally tight safe operating area (SOA), with outcomes ranging from compromising the battery performance to outright dangerous consequences. The BMS certainly has a challenging job description, and its overall complexity and oversight outreach may span many disciplines such as electrical, digital, control, thermal, and hydraulic.

How Do Battery Management Systems Work?

Battery management systems do not have a fixed or unique set of criteria that must be adopted. The technology design scope and implemented features generally correlate with:

  • The costs, complexity, and size of the battery pack
  • Application of the battery and any safety, lifespan, and warranty concerns
  • Certification requirements from various government regulations where costs and penalties are paramount if inadequate functional safety measures are in place

There are many BMS design features, with battery pack protection management and capacity management being two essential features. We’ll discuss how these two features work here. Battery pack protection management has two key arenas: electrical protection, which implies not allowing the battery to be damaged via usage outside its SOA, and thermal protection, which involves passive and/or active temperature control to maintain or bring the pack into its SOA.

Electrical Management Protection: Current

Monitoring battery pack current and cell or module voltages is the road to electrical protection. The electrical SOA of any battery cell is bound by current and voltage. Figure 1 illustrates a typical lithium-ion cell SOA, and a well-designed BMS will protect the pack by preventing operation outside the manufacturer’s cell ratings. In many cases, further derating may be applied to reside within the SOA safe zone in the interest of promoting further battery lifespan.

Electrical Management Protection: Current | Synopsys

Lithium-ion cells have different current limits for charging than for discharging, and both modes can handle higher peak currents, albeit for short time periods. Battery cell manufacturers usually specify maximum continuous charging and discharging current limits, along with peak charging and discharging current limits. A BMS providing current protection will certainly apply a maximum continuous current. However, this may be preceded to account for a sudden change of load conditions; for example, an electric vehicle’s abrupt acceleration. A BMS may incorporate peak current monitoring by integrating the current and after delta time, deciding to either reduce the available current or to interrupt the pack current altogether. This allows the BMS to possess nearly instantaneous sensitivity to extreme current peaks, such as a short-circuit condition that has not caught the attention of any resident fuses, but also be forgiving to high peak demands, as long as they are not excessive for too long.

Electrical Management Protection: Voltage

Figure 2 shows that a lithium-ion cell must operate within a certain voltage range. These SOA boundaries will ultimately be determined by the intrinsic chemistry of the selected lithium-ion cell and the temperature of the cells at any given time. Moreover, since any battery pack experiences a significant amount of current cycling, discharging due to load demands and charging from a variety of energy sources, these SOA voltage limits are usually further constrained to optimize battery lifespan. The BMS must know what these limits are and will command decisions based upon the proximity to these thresholds. For example, when approaching the high voltage limit, a BMS may request a gradual reduction of charging current, or may request the charging current be terminated altogether if the limit is reached. However, this limit is usually accompanied by additional intrinsic voltage hysteresis considerations to prevent control chatter about the shutdown threshold. On the other hand, when approaching the low voltage limit, a BMS will request that key active offending loads reduce their current demands. In the case of an electric vehicle, this may be carried out by reducing the allowed torque available to the traction motor. Of course, the BMS must make safety considerations for the driver the highest priority while protecting the battery pack to prevent permanent damage.

Thermal Management Protection: Temperature

At face value, it may appear that lithium-ion cells have a wide temperature operating range, but overall battery capacity diminishes at low temperatures because chemical reaction rates slow down remarkably. With respect to capability at low temperatures, they do perform much better than lead-acid or NiMh batteries; however, temperature management is prudently essential since charging below 0 °C (32 °F) is physically problematic. The phenomenon of plating of metallic lithium can occur on the anode during sub-freezing charging. This is permanent damage and not only results in reduced capacity, but cells are more vulnerable to failure if subjected to vibration or other stressful conditions. A BMS can control the temperature of the battery pack through heating and cooling.

Example of thermal safe operating area (SOA) for a Lithium-ion cell | Synopys

Realized thermal management is entirely dependent upon the size and cost of the battery pack and performance objectives, design criteria of the BMS, and product unit, which may include consideration of targeted geographic region (e.g. Alaska versus Hawaii). Regardless of the heater type, it is generally more effective to draw energy from an external AC power source, or an alternative resident battery purposed to operate the heater when needed. However, if the electric heater has a modest current draw, energy from the primary battery pack can be siphoned to heat itself. If a thermal hydraulic system is implemented, then an electric heater is used to heat the coolant which is pumped and distributed throughout the pack assembly.

BMS design engineers undoubtedly have tricks of their design trade to trickle heat energy into the pack. For example, various power electronics inside the BMS dedicated to capacity management can be turned on. While not as efficient as direct heating, it can be leveraged regardless. Cooling is particularly vital to minimize the performance loss of a lithium-ion battery pack. For example, perhaps a given battery operates optimally at 20°C; if the pack temperature increases to 30°C, its performance efficiency could be reduced by as much as 20%. If the pack is continuously charged and recharged at 45°C (113°F), the performance loss can rise to a hefty 50%. Battery life can also suffer from premature aging and degradation if continually exposed to excessive heat generation, particularly during fast charging and discharging cycles. Cooling is usually achieved by two methods, passive or active, and both techniques may be employed. Passive cooling relies on movement of air flow to cool the battery. In the case of an electric vehicle, this implies that it is simply moving down the road. However, it may be more sophisticated than it appears, as air speed sensors could be integrated to strategically auto-adjust deflective air dams to maximize air flow. Implementation of an active temperature-controlled fan can help at low speeds or when the vehicle has stopped, but all this can do is merely equalize the pack with the surrounding ambient temperature. In the event of a scorching hot day, this could increase the initial pack temperature. Thermal hydraulic active cooling can be designed as a complementary system, and typically utilizes ethylene-glycol coolant with a specified mixture ratio, circulated via an electric motor-driven pump through pipes/hoses, distribution manifolds, a cross-flow heat exchanger (radiator), and cooling plate resident against the battery pack assembly. A BMS monitors the temperatures across the pack, and open and closes various valves to maintain the temperature of the overall battery within a narrow temperature range to ensure optimal battery performance.

Capacity Management

Maximizing a battery pack capacity is arguably one of the most vital battery performance features that a BMS provides. If this maintenance is not performed, a battery pack may eventually render itself useless. The root of the issue is that a battery pack “stack” (series array of cells) is not perfectly equal and intrinsically has slightly different leakage or self-discharge rates. Leakage is not a manufacturer defect but a battery chemistry characteristic, though it may be statistically impacted from minute manufacturing process variations. Initially a battery pack may have well-matched cells, but over time, the cell-to-cell similarity further degrades, not just due to self-discharge, but also impacted from charge/discharge cycling, elevated temperature, and general calendar aging. With that understood, recall earlier the discussion that lithium-ion cells perform superbly, but can be rather unforgiving if operated outside a tight SOA. We learned previously about required electrical protection because lithium-ion cells do not deal well with over-charging. Once fully charged, they cannot accept any more current, and any additional energy pushed into it gets transmuted in heat, with voltage potentially rising quickly, possibly to dangerous levels. It is not a healthy situation for the cell and can cause permanent damage and unsafe operating conditions if it continues.

The battery pack series cell array is what determines the overall pack voltage, and mismatch between adjacent cells creates a dilemma when attempting to charge up any stack. Figure 3 shows why this is so. If one has a perfectly balanced set of cells, all is fine as each will charge up in equal fashion, and the charging current can be cut off when the upper 4.0 voltage cut-off threshold is reached. However, in the unbalanced scenario, the top cell will reach its charge limit early, and the charging current needs to be terminated for the leg before other underlying cells have been charged to full capacity. 

Ready-to-charge battery stack (a) balanced and (b) unbalanced | Synopsys

The BMS is what steps in and saves the day, or the battery pack in this case. To show how this works, a key definition needs to be explained. The state-of-charge (SOC) of a cell or module at a given time is proportional to the charge available relative to the total charge when fully charged. Thus, a battery that resides at 50% SOC implies it is 50% charged, which is akin to a fuel gauge figure of merit. BMS capacity management is all about balancing the variation of the SOC across each stack in the pack assembly. Since the SOC is not a directly measurable quantity, it can be estimated by various techniques, and the balancing scheme itself generally falls into two main categories, passive and active. There are many variations of themes, and each type has pros and cons. It’s up to the BMS design engineer to decide which is optimal for the given battery pack and its application. Passive balancing is the easiest to implement, as well as to explain the general balancing concept. The passive method allows every cell in the stack to have the same charged capacity as the weakest cell. Using a relatively low current, it shuttles a small amount of energy from high SOC cells during the charging cycle so that all cells charge to their maximum SOC. Figure 4 illustrates how this is accomplished by the BMS. It monitors each cell and leverages a transistor switch and an appropriately sized discharge resistor in parallel with each cell. When the BMS senses a given cell is approaching its charge limit, it will steer excess current around it to the next cell below in a top-down fashion.

High-level example of a BMS-controlled (passive type) balancer | Synopsys

The balancing process endpoints, before and after, are shown in Figure 5. In summary, a BMS balances a battery stack by allowing a cell or module in a stack to see a different charging current than the pack current in one of the following ways:

  • Removal of charge from the most charged cells, which gives headroom for additional charging current to prevent overcharging, and allows the less charged cells to receive more charging current
  • Redirection of some or nearly all of the charging current around the most charged cells, thereby allowing the less charged cells to receive charging current for a longer length of time
Example of cell balancing (a) unbalanced battery (b) balanced battery | Synopsys

Types of Battery Management Systems

Battery management systems range from simple to complex and can embrace a wide range of different technologies to achieve their prime directive to “take care of the battery.” However, these systems can be categorized based upon their topology, which relates to how they are installed and operate upon the cells or modules across the battery pack. 

Centralized BMS Architecture 

Has one central BMS in the battery pack assembly. All the battery packages are connected to the central BMS directly. The structure of a centralized BMS is shown in Figure 6. The centralized BMS has some advantages. It is more compact, and it tends to be the most economical since there is only one BMS. However, there are disadvantages of a centralized BMS. Since all the batteries are connected to the BMS directly, the BMS needs a lot of ports to connect with all the battery packages. This translates to lots of wires, cabling, connectors, etc. in large battery packs, which complicates both troubleshooting and maintenance.

Centralized BMS architecture | Synopsys

Modular BMS Topology 

Similar to a centralized implementation, the BMS is divided into several duplicated modules, each with a dedicated bundle of wires and connections to an adjacent assigned portion of a battery stack. See Figure 7. In some cases, these BMS submodules may reside under a primary BMS module oversight whose function is to monitor the status of the submodules and communicate with peripheral equipment. Thanks to the duplicated modularity, troubleshooting and maintenance is easier, and extension to larger battery packs is straightforward. The downside is overall costs are slightly higher, and there may be duplicated unused functionality depending on the application.

Modular BMS architecture | Synopsys

Primary/Subordinate BMS

Conceptually similar to the modular topology, however, in this case, the slaves are more restricted to just relaying measurement information, and the master is dedicated to computation and control, as well as external communication. So, while like the modular types, the costs may be lower since the functionality of the slaves tends to be simpler, with likely less overhead and fewer unused features.

Primary/subordinate BMS architecture  | Synopsys

Distributed BMS Architecture 

Considerably different from the other topologies, where the electronic hardware and software are encapsulated in modules that interface to the cells via bundles of attached wiring. A distributed BMS incorporates all the electronic hardware on a control board placed directly on the cell or module that is being monitored. This alleviates the bulk of the cabling to a few sensor wires and communication wires between adjacent BMS modules. Consequently, each BMS is more self-contained, and handles computations and communications as required. However, despite this apparent simplicity, this integrated form does make troubleshooting and maintenance potentially problematic, as it resides deep inside a shield module assembly. Costs also tend to be higher as there are more BMSs in the overall battery pack structure.

Distributed BMS architecture | Synopsys

The Importance of Battery Management Systems

Functional safety is of the highest importance in a BMS. It is critical during charging and discharging operation, to prevent the voltage, current, and temperature of any cell or module under supervisory control from exceeding defined SOA limits. If limits are exceeded for a length of time, not only is a potentially expensive battery pack compromised, but dangerous thermal runaway conditions could ensue. Moreover, lower voltage threshold limits are also rigorously monitored for the protection of the lithium-ion cells and functional safety. If the Li-ion battery stays in this low-voltage state, copper dendrites could eventually grow on the anode, which can result in elevated self-discharge rates and raise possible safety concerns. The high energy density of lithium-ion powered systems comes at a price that leaves little room for battery management error. Thanks to BMSs, and lithium-ion improvements, this is one of the most successful and safe battery chemistries available today.

Performance of the battery pack is the next highest important feature of a BMS, and this involves electrical and thermal management. To electrically optimize the overall battery capacity, all the cells in the pack are required to be balanced, which implies that the SOC of adjacent cells throughout the assembly are approximately equivalent. This is exceptionally important because not only can optimal battery capacity be realized, but it helps prevent general degradation and reduces potential hotspots from overcharging weak cells. Lithium-ion batteries should avoid discharge below low voltage limits, as this can result in memory effects and significant capacity loss. Electrochemical processes are highly susceptible to temperature, and batteries are no exception. When environmental temperature drops, capacity and available battery energy roll off significantly. Consequently, a BMS may engage an external in-line heater that resides on, say, the liquid cooling system of an electric vehicle battery pack, or turn-on resident heater plates that are installed underneath modules of a pack incorporated within a helicopter or other aircraft. Additionally, since charging of frigid lithium-ion cells is detrimental to battery life performance, it is important to first elevate the battery temperature sufficiently. Most lithium-ion cells cannot be fast-charged when they are less than 5°C and should not be charged at all when they are below 0°C. For optimum performance during typical operational usage, BMS thermal management often ensures that a battery operates within a narrow Goldilocks region of operation (e.g. 30 – 35°C). This safeguards performance, promotes longer life, and fosters a healthy, reliable battery pack.

The Benefits of Battery Management Systems

An entire battery energy storage system, often referred to as BESS, could be made up of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of lithium-ion cells strategically packed together, depending on the application. These systems may have a voltage rating of less than 100V, but could be as high as 800V, with pack supply currents ranging as high as 300A or more. Any mismanagement of a high voltage pack could trigger a life-threatening, catastrophic disaster. Consequently, therefore BMSs are absolutely critical to ensure safe operation. The benefits of BMSs can be summarized as follows.

  • Functional Safety. Hands down, for large format lithium-ion battery packs, this is particularly prudent and essential. But even smaller formats used in, say, laptops, have been known to catch fire and cause enormous damage. Personal safety of users of products that incorporate lithium-ion powered systems leaves little room for battery management error.
  • Life Span and Reliability. Battery pack protection management, electrical and thermal, ensures that all the cells are all used within declared SOA requirements. This delicate oversight ensures the cells are taken care of against aggressive usage and fast charging and discharging cycling, and inevitably results in a stable system that will potentially provide many years of reliable service.
  • Performance and Range. BMS battery pack capacity management, where cell-to-cell balancing is employed to equalize the SOC of adjacent cells across the pack assembly, allows optimum battery capacity to be realized. Without this BMS feature to account for variations in self-discharge, charge/discharge cycling, temperature effects, and general aging, a battery pack could eventually render itself useless.
  • Diagnostics, Data Collection, and External Communication. Oversight tasks include continuous monitoring of all battery cells, where data logging can be used by itself for diagnostics, but is often purposed to the task for computation to estimate the SOC of all cells in the assembly. This information is leveraged for balancing algorithms, but collectively can be relayed to external devices and displays to indicate the resident energy available, estimate expected range or range/lifetime based on current usage, and provide the state of health of the battery pack.
  • Cost and Warranty Reduction. The introduction of a BMS into a BESS adds costs, and battery packs are expensive and potentially hazardous. The more complicated the system, the higher the safety requirements, resulting in the need for more BMS oversight presence. But the protection and preventive maintenance of a BMS regarding functional safety, lifespan and reliability, performance and range, diagnostics, etc. guarantees that it will drive down overall costs, including those related to the warranty. 

Battery Management Systems and Synopsys

Simulation is a valuable ally for BMS design, particularly when applied to exploring and addressing design challenges within hardware development, prototyping, and testing. With an accurate lithium-ion cell model in play, the simulation model of the BMS architecture is the executable specification recognized as the virtual prototype. In addition, simulation permits painless investigation of variants of BMS oversight functions against different battery and environmental operation scenarios. Implementation issues can be discovered and investigated very early, which allows performance and functional safety improvements to be verified before implementation on the real hardware prototype. This reduces development time and helps ensure that the first hardware prototype will be robust. In addition, many authentication tests, including worst case scenarios, can be conducted of the BMS and battery pack when exercised in physically realistic embedded system applications. 

Synopsys SaberRD offers extensive electrical, digital, control, and thermal hydraulic model libraries to empower engineers interested in BMS and battery pack design and development. Tools are available to quickly generate models from basic datasheet specs and measurement curves for many electronic devices and different battery chemistry types. Statistical, stress, and fault analyses permit verification across spectrums of the operating region, including boundary areas, to ensure overall BMS reliability. Furthermore, many design examples are offered to enable users to jumpstart a project and quickly reach the answers needed from simulation.