Lorie Greenspan writes about Saft America, which supplies cutting edge battery technology to aircraft OEMs across the world, making it possible to run everything from the engine to the electrical systems efficiently and safely.
Saft America is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saft Groupe S.A., based in Paris and traded on the French Stock Exchange. With U.S. headquarters in Valdosta, Ga., the company has evolved alongside a market seeking increasingly sophisticated battery technology to run an increasingly complicated range of systems.
Primarily involved in the aviation industry, while growing into the oil and gas market, Saft has been studying market needs for more than a century, participating with aircraft manufacturers on industrial standards committees, so that getting closer to the need enables it to better satisfy its customers’ requirements. “We are not just about supplying the battery,” informs Aviation Sales & Marketing Director Bruce McRae. “We are committed to supplying the battery solution. We are very much immersed in the whole process and have built a strong position with top manufacturers. Our goal is to make the end user happy.” The industry, he adds wryly, “is not for the meek. A lot of manpower and commitment is necessary.”
In the field of aviation, batteries are used to start the airplane’s engine (between 13-15 kW is necessary) as well as provide fill-in electrical power and emergency back up. Some cockpit architecture is split between batteries supplying the engine and batteries powering the avionics, such as radios and electricity.
Evoking the recent “Miracle on the Hudson” involving Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who piloted Flight 1549 into the frigid Hudson River after birds damaged the engines, and saved all 150 passengers on board, McRae explains that Sullenberger needed to rely on batteries to start up the auxiliary power unit, so that fill-in power was necessary while the passengers were evacuated. He adds: “We have been made aware of a few instances in which our batteries needed to perform in an emergency and performed well. We’re a leader and there’s a reason for it.”
The evolution of aircraft over the last two decades was led by Boeing’s departure from gauges to the so-called glass cockpit of computer screens. “It changed electronics requirements and precipitated an evolution in market needs,” McRae recalls. In response, Saft started production on a stronger battery that could support higher amp/hours, yet needed to still weigh the same and take up the same a mount of space. Saft came out with its ultra low product line, and as other electrochemistry developments occurred, it responded to those requirements as well, not only in the aircraft industry but in various high end applications, including railroads and space. The company employs 300 people in research and development, fully charged with focusing efforts on improving the company’s products.
“We use stainless steel casing that doesn’t corrode – others use painted steel,” McRae says. “Our electrical connections are nickel plated copper for better resistance, providing more power to start the engine. The material is all top shelf.” It has to be, he adds, because, “at the end of the day you have to run a very expensive airplane.”
The company’s Ultima SLM Ni-Cd batteries are the best solution for installations in which the risk of failure of the system is unacceptable, especially in UPS emergency lighting systems, process control, telecommunications, and railroad signaling. SLM blocks are designed for autonomies between 30 minutes and three hours or mixed loads with high peak demands. These batteries are designed to meet the needs of applications requiring ultra low maintenance: There’s no need to top up the battery with water, and there’s no failure, thanks to controlled recombination. The battery also has a long lifetime of more than 20 years, a wide temperature range operation, and high resistance to electrical and physical abuse.
The Ultima SLM is also used in oil and gas exploration and exploitation – possibly the world’s most demanding battery application. In functions ranging from the main power supply for high-tech instrumentation or as emergency back-up for critical process control equipment and production systems, the battery must operate reliably in hostile conditions in remote locations.
For low maintenance operations, the company’s Uptimax range p) for process back-up and DC equipment for example. Ultima SLM meets ultra-low maintenance requirements. SBM medium-rate M-type batteries are ideal for sustaining loads from 30 minutes to two hours.
SBH or SPH high-rate H-type batteries are specially designed for discharges over short periods, making them ideal for constant power applications.
Other products include the lithium-ion (or Li-ion) battery, which is used on the Joint Strike Fighter and also the Airbus A350. “Nickel is incredibly robust and performs at extreme temperatures, highs and lows from -18C to -71C for commercial and for military, -40C to -71C,” McRae says. “It’s very reliable over a period of time.” Saft’s line of nickel batteries includes Ni-Cd (nickel cadmium) for aviation and Ni-hydro (nickel hydrogen) for space. “These batteries last between five to eight years,” McRae adds, “depending on the number of flights and the duration of the flights; how many times the airplane’s starting up in the Alaskan winter versus the Singapore summer.” Sizes range between 40-53 amps/hours. All batteries are designed and qualified to the requirements of the participating aircraft.
In addition, Saft’s range of Ni-Cd, Ni-MH and Li-ion batteries support vital systems in oil and gas production facilities onshore and offshore, as well as refineries and pipelines, in applications such as emergency power, UPS and control and safety system support.
Li-ion battery systems go from surface to sea-bed, from hydraulic to electric substitute umbilical energy. These battery systems offer energy density, no emissions and operation via remote control.
Saft has demonstrated a strong aptitude for developing, qualifying and manufacturing customized integrated Li-ion battery assemblies, including battery management and control systems, ensuring charge and discharge control, application interfacing, communication and safety.
Six Saft Li-ion battery modules will power electrically operated control valves for Statoil’s Norne oil and gas system, operating at a depth of 350m below the North Sea. This technology offers significant benefits in operational performance by enabling the storage of a large amount of energy within a compact, lightweight package with high-cycling capability.
Another key factor in favor of Li-ion technology is that it is easy to make diagnostic measurements of a cell’s state of charge (SOC) and state of health (SOH). This provides an excellent basis for remote monitoring and control of the battery system, which will be essential as oil and gas exploration moves to ever greater exploration depths. Saft Li-ion cells are completely hermetically sealed and maintenance free, ensuring that no gas can escape into the local environment.
In addition, McRae says, “We’re committed to recycling. Saft took a proactive stance on this a long time ago. It pays to embrace recycling.” Saft, he says, recycles the entire battery, returning into industry in some form. “Products in the battery are highly refined and specialized – they’re high end commodities. When they’re recycled they’re refined in a standard process that doesn’t lend these components going back into the highest refined entities.”
But it’s nice to know that a Saft product, whether in battery form or elsewhere, has evolved into another sort of industrial use, because this assures top quality and efficiency in whatever afterlife these components might share. Just another reason why Saft is “the preferred OEM supplier in the world.”