Many Saft space batteries are designed to operate in extreme environments or to meet unusual needs. Here are the stories of 10 of our most extreme batteries.
The city of Fairbanks, Alaska, is remote and cold. With no electrical connection to the rest of America, a power failure could be a disaster for the city. To prevent this, in 2003, Saft supplied the world’s largest battery. At 2,000 m2 and weighing 1,300 tons, the battery will provide 40 megawatts of power for up to seven minutes. That’s enough time to start the backup diesel generators that will restore power to the city. This nickel-based battery must work first time, when needed, despite temperatures that can fall as low as -51°C.
Philae, the robotic European Space Agency lander, touched down on a comet 720 million km from Earth in November 2014, ending a voyage of almost 11 years. Its landing position meant its solar panels were not illuminated by the Sun. It was able to carry out its mission only because of its Saft primary battery, which provided power for 64 hours in freezing temperatures. No battery has travelled further from the Earth.
The deep sea has some similarities with deep space, so it makes sense that Marum – the University of Bremen’s center for marine environmental research – would turn to Saft to power its deep-sea exploration vehicle, CMOVE. Operating at depths of several thousand meters, the unmanned vehicle is a mobile platform for various scientific instruments and experiments. Its battery had to be light, space-efficient and capable of powering the vehicle on missions of up to nine months.
Cobija, in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest, is the home of the world’s largest photovoltaic-diesel hybrid microgrid with an energy storage system (ESS) that combines solar panels and diesel generators. Energy from the solar panels is stored in a battery, reducing the community’s reliance on diesel. The extreme nature of this project is the challenge of getting it to the site. Without a suitable airport to fly into, shipping containers were floated across rivers and then transported over the Andes by truck.
The first test flight of the Ariane 5 launcher failed spectacularly when a malfunction in the control software triggered its self-destruction. The safety circuit, powered by six Saft batteries, triggered explosive charges and the unmanned rocket exploded 37 seconds after launch. Nobody was injured by the debris, which was scattered over the rainforest in French Guiana. More than six months later, four Saft batteries were recovered and shipped home for testing. Despite the fireball and the 5,000-meter plummet, they were still in full working order.
Launched in 1984, the MARECS B2 maritime communications satellite revolutionized sea-to-land communications and played a role in countless search and rescue operations. Designed to operate for seven years, the satellite was not boosted into a high ‘retirement’ orbit until 2002. Its Saft nickel-based battery was still fully functioning after 11 extra years.
Batteries carried on rockets must withstand very high impact and vibration levels during launch. Saft’s M62 cell was designed to do just that and is the largest battery of its kind. First used in 2008 on the Automated Transfer Vehicle that was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket and used to carry material to the International Space Station, it is currently being tested by space agencies in the United States and Japan.
Saft’s first ESS north of the Arctic Circle is in Colville Lake, northern Canada. Like the one in Cobija, it features a combination of solar panels and a new diesel plant, to replace the ageing diesel generators that the community of 150 people had relied on before. The battery had to be delivered down ice roads that are open for only a few weeks each year.
In potentially explosive atmospheres, a battery short-circuit could cause an explosion. Therefore, batteries for these environments, such as gas metering or tracking dangerous goods, need to undergo a hard short-circuit test. Saft’s M20 EX was designed to pass this test at ambient temperatures of up to +70°C and is the only battery of its kind that is certified for use in explosive atmospheres.
The Smart1 satellite was designed to answer questions about the Moon’s origin, look for signs of ice at the Moon’s south pole and test solar-electric propulsion and other new technologies. It orbited the Moon for three years and then, in a planned maneuver, crashed into the surface. Whenever the satellite’s trajectory took it out of view of the solar rays that powered it, it relied on a Saft lithium-ion battery.