A battery management system (BMS) is any electronic system that manages a rechargeable battery (cell or battery pack), such as by protecting the battery from operating outside its Safe Operating Area, monitoring its state, calculating secondary data, reporting that data, controlling its environment, authenticating it and / or balancing it.
A BMS may also feature a precharge system allowing a safe way to connect the battery to different loads and eliminating the excessive inrush currents to load capacitors.
The connection to loads is normally controlled through electromagnetic relays called contactors. The precharge circuit can be either power resistors connected in series with the loads until the capacitors are charged. Alternatively, a switched mode power supply connected in parallel to loads can be used to charge the voltage of the load circuit up to a level close enough to battery voltage in order to allow closing the contactors between battery and load circuit. A BMS may have a circuit that can check whether a relay is already closed before precharging (due to welding for example) to prevent inrush currents to occur.
In order to maximize the battery's capacity, and to prevent localized under-charging or over-charging, the BMS may actively ensure that all the cells that compose the battery are kept at the same voltage or State of Charge, through balancing. The BMS can balance the cells by:
Wasting energy from the most charged cells by connecting them to a load (such as through passive regulators)
Shuffling energy from the most charged cells to the least charged cells (balancers)
Reducing the charging current to a sufficiently low level that will not damage fully charged cells, while less charged cells may continue to charge (does not apply to Lithium chemistry cells)
BMS technology varies in complexity and performance:
Simple passive regulators achieve balancing across batteries or cells by bypassing charging current when the cell's voltage reaches a certain level. The cell voltage is a poor indicator of the cell's SOC (and for certain Lithium chemistries such as LiFePO4 it is no indicator at all), thus, making cell voltages equal using passive regulators does not balance SOC, which is the goal of a BMS. Therefore, such devices, while certainly beneficial, have severe limitations in their effectiveness.
Active regulators intelligently turning on and off a load when appropriate, again to achieve balancing. If only the cell voltage is used as a parameter to enable the active regulators, the same constraints noted above for passive regulators apply.
A complete BMS also reports the state of the battery to a display, and protects the battery.
BMS topologies fall in 3 categories:
Centralized: a single controller is connected to the battery cells through a multitude of wires
Distributed: a BMS board is installed at each cell, with just a single communication cable between the battery and a controller
Modular: a few controllers, each handing a certain number of cells, with communication between the controllers
Centralized BMSs are most economical, least expandable, and are plagued by a multitude of wires. Distributed BMSs are the most expensive, simplest to install, and offer the cleanest assembly. Modular BMSs offer a compromise of the features and problems of the other two topologies.
The requirements for a BMS in mobile applications (such as electric vehicles) and stationary applications (like stand-by UPSs in a server room) are quite different, especially from the space and weight constraint requirements, so the hardware and software implementations must be tailored to the specific use. In the case of electric or hybrid vehicles, the BMS is only a subsystem and cannot work as a standalone device. It must communicate with at least a charger (or charging infrastructure), a load, thermal management and emergency shutdown subsystems. Therefore, in a good vehicle design the BMS is tightly integrated with those subsystems. Some small mobile applications (such as medical equipment carts, motorized wheelchairs, scooters, and fork lifts) often have external charging hardware, however the on-board BMS must still have tight design integration with the external charger.