Batteries under Scrutiny

TÜV SÜD subjects power storage units for electric cars to intensive testing in five high-tech labs

An audiovisual glimpse into work at a battery-testing center.
Video: TÜV SÜD

The first electric car was introduced at the World Exposition in Paris in 1900, constructed by two Austrians, Ludwig Lohner and Ferdinand Porsche. More than 100 years later, the automotive world is trying to take the ultimate step from combustion engines to electric motors. There is a great deal of TÜV SÜD know-how in today’s electric vehicles.

TÜV SÜD’s Head of E-Mobility is fully charged and ready to go. “I started driving an electric car three years ago – and do so every day,” explains Volker Blandow enthusiastically. It covers about 90 percent of his mobility needs. His electric car cannot manage the remaining ten percent yet, he admits – the 800-kilometer drive for a vacation in southern Europe. The electrical engineer and renewable energy expert is fully aware that the short range has been preventing the breakthrough of e-technology on the road – for the moment. Because more powerful batteries will be developed in the next few years, so that drivers will get farther on a single battery charge. And charging will no longer take seven or eight hours, but instead a mere 15 to 20 minutes in the future, Blandow assures us.

There is already a great deal of TÜV SÜD know-how in many of the electric cars on the market today. The e-mobility experts from TÜV SÜD help auto manufacturers develop their electric cars as early as the design phase. “We check the issues of electrical safety in the vehicle right from the start,” states Volker Blandow. How are the wires run? Do all the connections, plugs, and distributors meet the technical specifications? Add to that component testing of the power train from the e-motor, high-performance electronics, and battery, to name a few. Motors with electric power give rise to a completely new set of safety problems that never confronted engineers of traditional gas-powered vehicles. Traditional vehicles have a maximum of 12 V. The high-performance batteries in e-cars generate up to 1,000 V.

Short circuits, overloading, crushing and impacts – everything that can happen to a battery during vehicle operation is simulated by the experts in the lab.

Accordingly, safety tests for the power storage units installed in the car are very important. For that reason, TÜV SÜD now operates five specialized battery labs around the world. The first was opened eight years ago in the USA, followed by a second one in Germany three years ago. After that, testing units were opened in China and Korea – and in autumn 2015, the most recent one in Japan. Manufacturers in all the major automotive production countries can now have their newly developed batteries for electric cars tested in TÜV SÜD’s labs. Blandow is especially proud of the most recent lab in the Far East: “For me, Japan is still the birthplace of electro-mobility because that’s where the first production vehicles were launched on the market,” he says.

The tests focus on the technical substance of the batteries. Technicians light them on fire to simulate the effect of a fire on the car. Conductivity is tested at extremely low temperatures in the cold chamber. Short circuits, overloading, crushing, and impacts – everything that can happen to a battery during vehicle operation is simulated by the experts in the lab. “We want to test the limits to see how safe these devices are,” explains Blandow.

We do this so that, someday, electro-mobility can overcome every barrier – and drivers of electric cars can travel longer distances on vacation without worry.