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New altitude test chamber checks batteries can survive flight

Joseph Flaig

The facility at Millbrook Proving Ground simulates flight in an unpressurised aircraft cargo hold (Credit: Millbrook)
The facility at Millbrook Proving Ground simulates flight in an unpressurised aircraft cargo hold (Credit: Millbrook)

Batteries will be checked for potentially catastrophic leaking or rupturing in unpressurised aircraft cargo space in a new altitude test chamber.

The facility, at Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, could also test batteries for electric planes as the sector grows over the next few years.

The battery altitude test chamber reduces internal air pressure to simulate altitudes up to 15,000m.

“Batteries get flown from location to location. So they need to be tested to make sure that they can survive transport at high altitudes,” said Millbrook’s chief battery engineer Peter Miller to Professional Engineering.

During tests, lithium batteries will be stored at 11.6kPa for more than six hours to simulate shipping flights. They will then be inspected, including checks for mass loss, leaking, ruptures or venting. Such damage can potentially cause fires or explosions.

The tests could also check the safety of batteries for electric planes.

“We’re already having some discussions with people to do testing for aviation,” said Miller. “That's a very new area, as you're aware, but that will happen.”

The chamber is 3.2m x 2m x 1m, meaning it can test some of the largest battery packs on the market. It also offers negative altitudes, enabling testing of batteries for mining equipment.  

Millbrook opened its battery test facility in September 2019 after the UK’s biggest investment in private battery testing. Engineers asess the life of battery cells, modules and packs, determine battery safety in a wide range of situations and validate performance under various environmental conditions.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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