In addition to the battery and the electric drive, Volkswagen Group Technology is now also developing the pulse inverter and the thermal management itself for its electric drives. This was announced at the company’s Tech Day 2023. As with other components, the VW developers have opted for a modular system. The first application will be in the MEB+ platform, an evolution of the currently used and widespread MEB underpinnings.
For their first pulse inverter designed in-house, the VW engineers have “redesigned this core component from scratch in terms of hardware and software”, says the Volkswagen press release. The modular design principle enables the entire range, from entry-level engines to sports cars with 500 kW and more power, to be realized together in the future.
“Our goal is to achieve technological leadership, also in electric mobility,” says Thomas Schmall, the Group’s Chief Technology Officer. “That’s why here, too, we rely on our internal competencies and, after battery cells and electric motors, we are taking over the development of pulse inverters and thermal management systems.”
“In the future, this will make the Volkswagen Group one of the only car manufacturers in the world that’s able to offer a holistically optimised complete system,” he added.
The pulse inverter is key
The pulse inverters are a key component in the electric drive system. In these components, the direct current from the battery is converted into the three-phase alternative current for the electric motors, so the entire drive energy passes through the components.
The pulse inverter is crucial for the reliability, safety, and efficiency of the drive during acceleration and recuperation. If a pulse inverter does not work efficiently, valuable drive energy is lost in the form of heat. Since this heat must be dissipated, the cooling requirement increases – and with it, the energy consumption of the cooling system.
Currently, Volkswagen is developing the technology to series maturity to be used with the next MEB generation. Since introducing the SSP electric platform in VW’s flagship Trinity will probably be delayed by at least two years, Volkswagen needs a technical platform on which new models and facelifts of existing models can be built in the coming years.
Therefore, the MEB is being revised to become the MEB+ modular platform, with shorter charging times, a more extended range, and “significant leaps” in automated driving functions.
Volkswagen says it is also working on entirely new thermal management solutions. Where today, a multitude of individual modules and long hose connections are used, in the future, a very compact, integrated thermal module will take over. It controls the entire climate control system, including the high-voltage battery, and thus has a significant influence on the vehicle’s range and fast-charging capability.
According to Volkswagen, the new all-in-one module will be “significantly lighter, more robust, and more efficient” than today’s systems. The company isn’t more specific at this point yet; precise details of the improvement will no doubt follow in due course.
Until now, ICE engines had various cooling and air-conditioning systems that were still decoupled from each other. In an electric car, the cooling requirements and the further use of existing waste heat should be handled much more efficiently. Therefore, integrated systems are the obvious choice. “The new all-in-one module is also significantly lighter, more robust, and more efficient than current systems, says the press release.
Almost all other EV manufacturers are working on this. Tesla, for instance, also relies on highly integrated thermal management with its own specially developed hardware. Others count on suppliers to offer them the most integrated and efficient system possible. When we know what VW has been going through lately regarding its digital hardware and software, it’s logical that they now want the entire control of these crucial technologies.
In addition to the efficiency of the pulse inverters and thermal management systems, the ongoing development also focuses on scalability. “The Volkswagen Group and its brands stand for first-class products and technologies,” said Group CEO Oliver Blume in an announcement at Volkswagen’s Tech Day 2023.
“Thanks to the size and breadth of the Group, as well as our in-house expertise, we can leverage enormous economies of scale. This benefits our customers and makes our vehicles even better,” he added. “The development of a complete drive offers efficiency and cost advantages, up to 20 percent more efficiency through the optimal combination of individual components.”
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