In an era where technology is rapidly evolving and sustainability is becoming a cornerstone of global industries, understanding the intersection of innovation and safety is crucial. Leading the charge in this domain is Sarah Martin, the President of Honeywell Sensing & Safety Technologies. With a rich background in both engineering and management at Honeywell, Sarah has been at the forefront of developing technologies that not only push the boundaries of what’s possible but also ensure the utmost safety and efficiency.
In this insightful interview, Sarah delves into the critical role of Honeywell Sensing & Safety Technologies in crafting cutting-edge solutions for a variety of industries, from healthcare to transportation. She sheds light on the unique challenges and opportunities in the realm of electric vehicles (EVs), especially concerning lithium-ion battery safety, and discusses Honeywell’s innovative approaches to mitigating risks associated with EVs and their batteries. Beyond EVs, Sarah explores the broader implications of safety in sustainable transportation and the future of eco-friendly travel.
Join us as we explore these intriguing topics with Sarah Martin, a visionary leader driving the future of safe and sustainable technology at Honeywell.
Can you tell us a bit about your background with Honeywell and your role as the President of Honeywell Sensing & Safety technologies?
Over the past decade at Honeywell, I’ve worn various hats in both engineering and management roles. In my current position, I am responsible for overseeing the global sensing and safety business, which spans healthcare, industrial manufacturing, transportation and logistics, electrification and more.
What is Honeywell Sensing & Safety Technologies responsible for creating?
At Honeywell Sensing & Safety Technologies, we’re all about crafting innovative solutions to boost safety and productivity. From gas detection in industrial settings to remote healthcare patient monitoring technologies to sensors helping airplanes take off and land, our expertise covers a wide range of industries. At the core of our mission is to develop technologies that elevate safety and equipment performance in critical areas. With one of the most extensive portfolios of sensors and switches, we’re dedicated to providing original equipment manufacturers and other customers with the technologies they need to enhance their operations.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are an obvious path toward sustainable travel, but they come with certain risks. What do you see as the main safety risks for EVs and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries?
Roughly 6 million EVs were sold around the world in the first half of 2023, representing a 40% increase from the same time period in 2022. Because of this accelerated rate of adoption, battery safety must be a top priority for manufacturers, users, and first responders.
EVs introduce new safety risks, particularly concerning “thermal runaway” within the lithium-ion (li-ion) battery. Thermal runaway occurs when the battery cell used to power the vehicle reaches extremely high temperatures, posing the risk of vehicle failure and a significant fire. What makes this particularly dangerous is fires caused by li-ion batteries can be up to 1,000 degrees hotter than fires from traditional internal combustion engines, making them more challenging to extinguish and posing a greater risk to surrounding structures.
While EV fires are a cause for concern, they remain rare, and we must not allow them to impede the use of this technology in advancing a more sustainable future. That’s why, at Honeywell, we are actively developing solutions and safety technologies to help accelerate the move toward electrification by minimizing the potential risks associated with it.
Honeywell produces sensors that can detect “thermal runaway,” which can lead to li-ion battery fires. Can you walk us through how these sensors work and why they are integral to the mass production and use of EVs?
There are two types of sensing technologies that identify possible thermal runaway situations: aerosol sensors and pressure sensors. Aerosol sensors utilize light scattering technology to detect particulate matter released when a failing battery cell in the li-ion battery pack starts “venting” (releasing debris, smoke, or liquid droplets inside the battery pack).
Pressure sensors use microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) as well as application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) technologies to identify temporary changes in pressure levels within the EV battery packs. They then transmit this information to the battery management system (BMS), allowing it to confirm the thermal event and notify the EV passengers that they need to exit the vehicle.
The seamless integration of battery safety sensors into EV production serves as a way for automotive manufacturers to enhance their comprehensive battery health monitoring systems and facilitate the early detection of thermal runaway conditions. Not only do these sensors enhance user safety, but they also assist manufacturers in meeting safety regulations, fostering consumer trust, and supporting the broader goal of widespread EV adoption.
In addition to the thermal runaway sensing solutions, we also produce High Amperage Current sensors used in the vehicle’s BMS that monitor conditions related to the state of charge and health of the EV battery. These sensors help improve battery life and vehicle performance, thereby allowing vehicle manufacturers to optimize driving range.
Is Honeywell Sensing & Safety Technologies planning to launch any additional technologies related to lithium batteries and electrified transport?
Our goal is to stay ahead of emerging risks and provide cutting-edge solutions for the evolving landscape of sustainable transportation. At the end of last year, we announced a strategic alliance with Nexceris, developer of Li-ion Tamer lithium-ion gas detection solutions, to co-develop sensors that detect earlier thermal runaway indicators in EV batteries.
Additionally, advancements in urban air mobility and advanced air mobility (AAM) in recent years have brought us closer to electrified air taxis and air ambulances of the future. As the industry progresses, there will be a growing need for technologies like sensors and switches that meet the size, weight and power requirements of these new types of aircraft. Honeywell’s extensive sensor suite—including electro-mechanical sealed and un-sealed precision switches, proximity sensors, speed sensors, precision thermostats, temperature probes and more—empowers manufacturers to confidently steer through the future of sustainable transportation, whether it’s on the ground or in the air.
With the right safety sensors in place, what other applications do you see for lithium batteries?
Li-ion batteries are versatile and can be applied in diverse industries such as renewable energy storage, aerospace, power grid management, and consumer electronics. They are suitable for scenarios that require high energy, high power, and adherence to safety standards.1 As the safety risks associated with li-ion batteries decrease thanks to safety-focused technology, we’ll see more industries turning to them as a safe and sustainable power source.
What do you think the future of safe and sustainable transportation looks like?
The United States has its sights set on 50% of all vehicles sold each year being zero-emission by 2030. An initial and crucial step in shaping the future of sustainable transportation is to increase the presence of EVs on the roads. This move will effectively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contribute to a more sustainable world. The widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles aligns with global efforts to mitigate environmental impact and create a greener, more eco-friendly landscape.
However, I believe that achieving a future of safe and sustainable transportation necessitates a combination of advanced technologies, supporting regulations and infrastructure, and a fundamental shift in mindset. I anticipate a more extensive integration of electric and autonomous vehicles supported by stringent safety measures. Central to this vision is enhancing safety of these vehicles, which is a critical factor in building and maintaining consumer trust. This trust, in turn, becomes instrumental in fostering the continued and widespread adoption of EVs, ultimately facilitating the transition to a more sustainable future of transportation.
Why is safety such a key part of a sustainable future?
Safety is a key component of a sustainable future because, without it, advancements in technology and transportation could lead to unintended consequences. Ensuring the safety of new technologies not only protects individuals and communities but also fosters trust in the new technologies. It’s the foundation for building a future where innovation and sustainability go hand in hand.
Learn more about Honeywell Sensing & Safety Technologies here.