The hype surrounding electromobility (the use of electrically powered vehicles) may have died down a little, but the development of alternative drives is still racing ahead behind the scenes. Although MANN+HUMMEL is still seeing growth in the area of conventional combustion engine products, the foundations are also being laid for the car of the future, which will be dominated by hybrid, battery and fuel cell drives.
Big changes ahead
Whether we ultimately end up driving hybrid, battery or fuel cell vehicles in the future, one thing is certain: many of our current products will either no longer be required at all or they will have to be adapted to suit the prevailing drive technology. Given our highly concentrated expertise in the areas of filtration and separation, surely the obvious next step would be to transfer this know-how to electrically powered vehicles and fuel cells. Indeed, our current products (which are designed to protect people and machinery against stresses and strains, premature wear and ageing) can also offer new functions in the context of fuel cell technology. After all, the air that is used to cool the battery in an electric car has to be cleaned to prevent damage to the system components. We have already launched these kinds of air filters for air-cooled batteries in electrically powered vehicles.
Filters for electric vehicles
Another practical application in this field is the ventilation unit that we developed for use on innovative electrically powered vehicles such as the BMW i3. At the heart of this component lies a membrane, which is fitted inside the battery housing. In the event of a malfunction inside the battery, it stops excess pressure from building up due to the resulting gas, thereby preventing the housing from exploding.
Another example of this kind of knowledge transfer centres on a dryer cartridge for battery systems. We all know that batteries only function correctly at certain temperatures and so have to be cooled. However, if air moisture condenses inside the battery housing, water droplets form, which are a big no-no in situations that involve electricity. Our cartridge solves the problem by eliminating the moisture.
Our experience in the area of plastics technology (such as high-precision injection moulding) is also very much in demand as far as alternative drives are concerned. The battery frames we produce for the Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera are testament to our production know-how and our cost efficiency. The frames, which are built from up to 300 parts, have to be manufactured with extremely tight production tolerances, a high degree of tightness and a high level of component cleanliness.
Fuel cell vehicles
The fuel cell is another area that is of great interest, even though the use of this technology on vehicles has to be viewed as a long-term issue. By the year 2020, the number of fuel cell vehicles in operation around the world will still be well below the 100,000 mark. In the case of fuel cell technology, there are a number of ‘early markets’ apart from the automotive sector and these include combined heat and power (CHP) systems for domestic use. These systems rely on a fuel cell to generate electricity and the resulting heat can, for example, be used for heating purposes. They generate the necessary hydrogen from the natural gas supplied via the line and, unlike cars, do not require any additional infrastructure.
Whether we are talking about fuel cell cars or CHP systems installed in the basement, the requirements concerning the purity of the supply air and the conductivity of the cooling fluid are essentially the same. Consequently, we are developing products for stationary applications that are also suitable for automotive contexts once they have been adapted. The first products we launched within this field were the ion exchanger filter and cathode air filter for liquid-cooled fuel cells. The cathode air filter, which won the f-cell award, features improved cleaning to provide the catalytic converter with better protection against particles and harmful gases. In this way, it helps increase the operating life of the fuel cell.
Amid all this excitement, it is important not to forget that electromobility is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. The number of electrically powered vehicles that are registered in the run-up to 2020 will never exceed an annual figure of two percent. Nevertheless, now is definitely the right time for MANN+HUMMEL to transfer its renowned expertise in filtration, separation and plastics processing to carefully selected alternative drive products. It is now that the supply chains are being created; it is now that suppliers and customers are getting to grips with how electromobility components work, it is now that field tests are being conducted to find out which products the company should focus on, and it is now that applications for key patents are being submitted. In all this, we want to make sure we are one step ahead of the rest.