TÜV and ConAC to open test lab for EV batteries

The German certification service provider TÜV Rheinland, Cologne, Germany, and the Aachen-based start-up ConAC GmbH have announced a test laboratory for electric car drive batteries. The laboratory, which is to become one of the “largest and most modern independent battery test centres in Europe”, is scheduled to start operations in September 2021 in the German-Dutch industrial park Avantis, Electrive.com reports.

The two partners estimate the investment volume in the 2,000 square meter facility at 22 million euros; when fully operational, the test centre will employ 25 people. The test centre will be officially operated by the joint venture TÜV Rheinland Automotive Component Testing GmbH, in which TÜV Rheinland will hold the majority (74.9 per cent). ConAC (25.1 per cent) is a subsidiary of PEM Aachen, whose main shareholder is StreetScooter co-founder Achim Kampker.

“For us at TÜV Rheinland, this means entering the field of testing traction batteries for electric cars,” says Michael Fübi, CEO of TÜV Rheinland. “We have been testing batteries for years, but not for electric cars. These are quite different dimensions”. The new centre will not test individual cells, but rather the modules or packs, including the controls and wiring.

No new building will be erected in the industrial park for the test laboratory. Instead, an existing building of the industrial park will be used with RWTH Aachen University, PEM Motion and “other technology start-ups”. The German-Dutch border will run directly through the laboratory.

It should be possible to test battery systems weighing up to 800 kilograms at the site. These are to be “tests on the basis of mandatory specifications for type approval and transport”, examples being ECE R100 for testing and approval of lithium-ion batteries or UN 38.3. In addition, “more extensive, voluntary tests based on manufacturer specifications” are to be carried out, for example for additional quality assurance. Electrical and mechanical tests, environmental simulations and misuse tests can be performed. In general, the battery systems can be charged and discharged at the site with up to 500 kW nominal power.

At the start of operations in September 2021, the existing building will be equipped with climate chambers for environmental simulations (temperatures from -40 to +90 degrees Celsius, relative humidity 10 to 95%), corrosion chambers or test facilities for splash water. In April 2021, work is to begin on an extension building, which is to be erected next to the main building and is scheduled to go into operation in June 2022. Test facilities for destructive testing are then to be installed in the new building.

In addition to a dust chamber, the extension building will also house a facility for vibration testing and, above all, the “bunker” for destructive tests such as “drop, pressure, crushing, fire simulation, nail penetration, over and deep discharge”. “Destructive tests of vehicle batteries are a special challenge”, says Fübi about the special bunker. “Enormous amounts of energy are bound up in such large batteries for cars. These must be controlled if we want to destroy the batteries for test purposes”.

Test capacities are already scarce

At the digitally transmitted press conference, Fübi and Kampker emphasised that there is already too little testing capacity in Europe. According to the head of TÜV Rheinland, the industry would have to wait six to eight months for “big tests” and the upcoming flood of models would aggravate the situation. “With the test centre, we can not only help to get more electric cars on the road but also maintain value creation in Germany,” adds Kampker.

Indeed, in recent weeks and months, other providers have opened or announced test centres for all aspects of electromobility, some with a different focus. SGS’ e-mobility laboratory, which opened in July, is designed not only for traction batteries but also for charging technology such as plug connections for high- and low-voltage lines. In the third quarter of this year, FEV, the Aachen-based vehicle development service provider, will put into operation a modern development and test centre for high-voltage batteries called eDLP at its Sandersdorf-Brehna site in Saxony-Anhalt. At the end of September, TÜV SÜD opened a mobility and drive centre at its Heimsheim site near Stuttgart. However, the centre is designed more for the drives and their emissions than for the batteries. In addition, there are further industrial facilities at Seat or the development and production service provider Valmet Automotive, to name but a few examples.

Those involved see the cooperation behind the new test centre as a unique selling point. With the RWTH Aachen University, a university is also on the site, and according to Fübi, the cooperation with PEM will also result in new offerings: “In conjunction with the PEM Group, we can map the entire value chain – from the development of the battery packs by PEM, which we as TÜV Rheinland do not normally do, to the testing of the finished battery”.

PEM shareholder Kampker, who attended the round table as a representative of ConAC, underlined another aspect: “Testing is currently an important topic in the industry in terms of capacity, but also in terms of processes,” said the Aachen professor. “We not only need to know what we are testing but also how we are testing it. If we design the tests intelligently, for example, we can cover several standards with a single test”. However, no details were given at the press conference.

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