Car batteries have to undergo numerous tests in manufacturers’ laboratories before they are on the road. (Photo: Volkswagen)
Warren is a 140,000 soulless city half an hour outside of Detroit. General Motors runs one of the most modern battery technology testing laboratories here. Like many other car manufacturers, the Michigan giant with its various brands has long made up its mind decided to go electromobility. At the heart of these electric cars are not largely faded electric motors, but batteries that do their hard work between the two axles. At Warren General Motors, tests its batteries down to the last detail – a torture program that is second to none.
GM subjects a battery to a torture program
“We will test the batteries here for about three years before they go into the vehicles”explains Eric Roor, who is responsible for the operation of the battery systems there. The torture program in a gray, low-rise building takes place seven days a week – 24 hours a day. 500 people take the batteries down, put them back together, talk to suppliers like LG Chem, let them freeze up, then reheat them.
Giant climatic chambers from CZS Cincinnati, in which the battery modules are heavily loaded, are used for testing. “Here we can change conditions in different ways – from 5 to 95 percent humidity and in a temperature range of minus 67 to plus 89 degrees Celsius.”Eric Boor explains and re-closes the giant double doors of the climate chamber, “But of course we test not only in the lab, but also in cars. Time and time again, battery packs appear in prototypes; are used in difficult road and off-road conditions. “
According to Boor, the double-decker battery from the Hummer EV is currently tired in the chamber – it weighs 910 kilograms and has a capacity of 208 kWh. For off-roaders, there is a giant vibrating plate that can carry five tons at speeds up to 2000 Hz – so there should be no nasty surprises with the flagship GMC Hummer off-road vehicle. Eric Bor: “There is a clear goal: the customer needs a fully charged car in eight to ten minutes – like an internal combustion engine. We are working on it easily. “
BMW is focused on creating battery value
About 9,000 kilometers to the east, things aren’t much different at BMW. A pilot plant for electric drives and a competence center for battery cells are located in Munich, where the BMW Group analyzes the value-added processes of battery cells and develops its own production processes. In autumn, BMW will open a new competence center for the production of battery cells in Parsdorf near Munich. Bavarians want to test the industrialization of future generations of high-performance battery cells on 15,000 square meters. Unlike some of its competitors, BMW purchases its batteries from companies such as CATL.
However, the competence center should keep this relationship within limits. The pilot line in the competence center enables full analysis and understanding of the processes creating added value in the cell. “With the competence center for battery cell manufacturing in Parsdorf, we are taking the next logical step to penetrate deeply into the entire process of creating added value for battery cells.”explains Markus Fallböhmer, production manager for electric drives, “After the successful implementation of the battery cell competence center, our focus is now on the production processes. In this way, experts from the BMW Group can discuss on an equal footing with the cell manufacturers and optimize processes and technologies. “
Volkswagen tests in Salzgitter
In contrast, Volkswagen develops and manufactures the basic components of an electric car for its various brands, produces its own modules or purchases from suppliers. VW has opened one of the most modern cell research laboratories in Europe in Salzgitter. By 2025, the Volkswagen unit cell with team run. In total, 250 experts work in four laboratories in areas such as cell development, analytics and testing. “With new, state-of-the-art laboratories, we are further expanding our knowledge of the development, process and production of the battery cell – the heart of the electric vehicle. The Volkswagen plant in Salzgitter shows how the transformation of the German automotive industry from conventional drives to e-mobility can be successful. ”, says Thomas Schmall, member of the VW Group board of management for technology. By 2030, the Volkswagen Group wants to operate six cell factories in Europe with partners with a production capacity of 240 GWh. In the future, cells with an annual capacity of 40 GWh will be produced in Salzgitter.
The new unit cell should exploit synergy and cut battery costs by at least half. The test center in Salzgitter is responsible for group-wide material testing, approval testing, quality assurance and serial cell monitoring. About 160 of the 500 employees are currently involved in cell development. The number of employees is expected to double by the end of 2022. The laboratories allow the execution of test programs with up to 200 different analysis methods on an area of 2,500 square meters.
What Mercedes is planning with eCampus
A similar competence center has also been established at Mercedes on the premises of the main plant in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. The new eCampus is to be gradually put into use from 2023 and will initially house, among others, a factory for low-volume production of battery cells. In the middle of the decade, a so-called Battery Safety Laboratory and various test stands for testing and testing new generations of batteries will be established complete eCampus. Last year, the first battery factory was commissioned in Hedelfingen. The new Mercedes eCampus covers an area of over 30,000 square meters.
Mercedes Management Board Member for Development Markus Schäfer: “The components developed at the Untertürkheim site will play a key role. Not only are we already developing parts for our electric drives here, we also research the chemistry of the cells of the future in our laboratories and test them until they are ready for production. In the new eCampus, we will be able to combine our comprehensive knowledge of the development of the entire electric drive even more effectively in the future. ”