Isabelle Kraft, Automotive Senior Analyst at Ducker Carlisle
One of the biggest drivers of innovation in thermal management at the moment is the evolution in the automotive industry towards Integrated Thermal Management Modules. How can we bring thermal management controls for the cabin, electric motor, batteries and power electronics together into one optimised modular system? Isabelle Kraft, Automotive Senior Analyst at Ducker Carlisle, will introduce a panel on the topic on the first day of the Thermal Management Expo conference this December in Stuttgart.
What are Integrated Thermal Management Modules?
Well, in a normal BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) you have two different thermal systems; one for the coolant and one for the refrigurant. The coolant is cooling the battery. The refrigerant is cooling your cabin, all of the interior. These two systems are connected to eachother. In the first generation of vehicles, what we've seen is that you open the car and you have a bunch of different thermal applications with long tubes everywhere. It is pretty crowded. But now it's all about efficiency. It's all about space in the vehicle. So in order to reduce this, you come up with modules; a plug and play box, all the components are in there. The compressor most of the time is mounted outside, but all the other components are inside. This first of all saves space. The second advantage is obviously efficiency, because if you have longer tubes, you need more pressure to pump the refrigurant and it requires more material. This is why there is a trend towards modular.
What is the current state of this? Who is developing these modules?
There is a lot of market uncertainty right now, uncertainty in the market, especially for suppliers. Right now you have the situation that OEMs are starting to develop their own modules, like Hyundai does. And then you have the established suppliers like Mahle, Brose, Valeo, also working on these modules. And then we have the newcomers, like for example Schaeffler, who have previously been more active in ICE (internal combustion engine)-based applications and are now looking at thermal applications.
They are all trying to get into this market, but the question is, when will serious production start. We are at the prototype level. Brose and Schaeffler introduced modules with two loops, meaning refrigurant and a coolant, but this is still in the prototype stage of very low quantities and no serious production. Except for Tesla’s Octovalve.
We have conducted a lot of research. We have spoken with OEMs, with suppliers and the supply chain and we found that there are many uncertainties, especially about the requirements. Of course OEMs know more or less which direction they will go, but suppliers do not know. Will they go towards once loop or two loop solutions? Which refrigurant will be used? The choice of refrigurant has a huge impact on the module you develop. What are the lead times? These are some of the certainties we found during our research and our discussion with these market participants.