STMicroelectronics is actively partnering with a Chinese research institute, IMECAS (the Institute of Microelectronics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences), to develop battery management systems for electric vehicles, placing themselves in the heart of the booming Chinese electric vehicle revolution.
The Current BMS Market
Battery management systems are pivotal in portable device designs that use rechargeable batteries, including electric cars.
The BMS is typically responsible for monitoring a battery system's temperature, current, voltage, and some environmental factors that may affect these states. It's also often responsible for computing useful information gathered from monitoring, including charge storage, cycles, and charge and discharge current limits. All of this informs the control function of the BMS, which can prevent overcharging, overheating, and other issues that require intervention. Finally, certain BMSs communicate relevant information to external hardware (such as a display) to allow for maintenance. Some electric vehicles also incorporate regenerative braking as part of their BMS.
An example of a display with information supplied from a car's BMS. Image courtesy of Toyota.
Optimizing BMS architecture is a delicate balance of monitoring and controlling the power of a device, so the topology used must be tailored to the application. Topologies could include a single controller or multiple controllers attached to battery cells, depending on the requirements of the given system.
As the electric vehicle industry grows, all of these aspects of the BMS will be the focus of intensive research, development, and scrutiny.
China and the NEV Market
STMicroelectronics hails China as the largest market for NEVs, or "new energy vehicles", claiming that over half a million NEVs were sold in China last year. This aligns neatly with ABI Research's report that China's ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) market will grow precipitously over the next three years, up to 40% growth per year.
China's growing influence in renewable energy sources is part of a conscious move away from dependence on gasoline. One of the commonly-touted reasons for this push is that the Chinese government wants to reduce emissions and remove smog from urban areas. While smog is indeed a major health issue in China, Chinese EVs may be even worse for smog creation than gas-powered cars. This is because electric cars are powered by a grid system that's almost entirely coal-burning in China. This issue may dissipate as China shifts to using cleaner methods to power the grid (presumably 60% by 2020).
Another less controversial motivation for Chinese interest in NEVs is economics. By leading the research on electric vehicles, Chinese companies stand to dominate a growing industry. It's this same mindset that is likely causing global corporations, like STMicroelectronics, to seek out a place in the Chinese market.
Developing Battery Management around STMicro's Chipset
Given this push for electric vehicle development in China, STMicroelectronics certainly has plenty to gain from a partnership with Chinese researchers. This direct partnership with an institution run by the Chinese government could be a good way to gain secure footing in the Chinese market, jumping ahead of competitors.
This is also a major step towards getting SPC5x automotive microcontrollers into a robust market.
A breakdown of the SPCx line of MCUs. Note that eTPU stands for "enhanced time-processing unit". Image from STMicroelectronics.
The SPC5x line is one of STMicro's automotive MCU families. The fact that this line is deliberately going to be at the core of IMECAS's research going forward means that STMicro could well be crucial in the next generation of Chinese NEVs, more or less staking a state-sanctioned claim on a massive market.
Increasing Interest in the Chinese Market
Car makers are also pursuing direct involvement in the Chinese market. In May, Nissan announced a major initiative with Beijing's Tsinghua University in the opening of a new Joint Research Center for Intelligent Mobility. Their goal is to develop electric vehicles and autonomous driving "for the Chinese market" in particular, continuing on with a decade-long partnership between Nissan and the university that has allowed Nissan a clearer grasp of Chinese consumers and roadways.
China's inarguably the current belle of the electric vehicle ball, but it's worth noting that India is nipping at its heels. With a goal of making every single car in India electric by 2030, we're likely to see the race for NEV technology heat up in the next several years between China and India.