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The right climate for battery testing

11 May 2020

Electric vehicles are widely regarded as the future but there needs to be substantial evolution of the technology before we get there.

Electric vehicles are widely regarded as the future but, while bold targets are in place for the UK and the EU to transfer its transport fleet to electric propulsion by 2035 or 2040, there needs to be substantial evolution of the technology before we get there.

MAHLE Powertrain is one of the companies at the forefront of accelerating the development process and, consequently, has recently opened a facility specifically for the testing and development of electrified powertrain battery packs and modules. 

The aim of this new facility, which is based at the company’s Northampton UK headquarters, is to expedite the validation and testing of new battery technologies, parts and assemblies and therefore reduce the time and cost of the development process.

One established method of accelerating the testing procedure is to be able precisely to control the testing environment, rapidly cycling the temperature and humidity within a test chamber. As these climate-controlled chambers are key to the success of the operation, MAHLE Powertrain turned to Unitemp, who is the exclusive UK distributor of Espec environmental test equipment. For this battery cell evaluation project, the Espec Platinous Series PL-3J test chamber was selected. 

This chamber, like all others from Espec, meets the EUCAR (European Council for Automotive R&D) level 6 standard. This means that it will withstand fire, gas venting and ‘energetic release of materials’, which is reassuring when dealing with new battery chemistries that have unknown and potentially dangerous behaviours when subjected to the ‘real-world’ type testing simulated in the environmental chambers. Beyond meeting these stringent requirements, the Espec chambers were also selected for their energy-efficient operation and the large amount of test space available in relation to the footprint of the machine.

Now MAHLE can take battery cells, modules and packs and safely assess their performance in terms of storage, thermal characteristics and electrical response under test conditions replicating the on-road and under-the-bonnet experience, as temperatures can be cycled from -40°C up to 100°C and humidity is always tightly and consistently controlled.

Having such a test facility alongside the existing manufacturing facility enables rapid prototyping for new battery technologies, from basic battery chemistries to full electronically-managed systems. 

Simon Reader, MAHLE Powertrain’s director of engineering services, says: “With electrification, seemingly the automotive industry’s preferred method for achieving stringent future emissions targets, there is a very time- and cost-sensitive need to develop enabling technologies such as the battery module.

“The new facility has been carefully developed to provide an extensive capability that aids battery assessment, test and optimisation. In-house development of such a facility would be time- and cost-prohibitive for OEMs and so it makes perfect sense for MAHLE Powertrain, which can provide an end-to-end powertrain solution, to offer a broad range of expertise and capability that’s able to accelerate development time while reducing cost, in one place.”

“The significant investment into this facility reflects MAHLE Powertrain’s commitment to providing customers with services and solutions that are directly relevant to their requirements,” concludes Reader. “The needs of the automotive industry are evolving and by working with a trusted powertrain partner for testing or development work, OEMs are able to combat challenges while streamlining new vehicle development processes.”


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