Essential information for end of life vehicle dismantling, depollution and recycling

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Electrification – profitable future or white elephant?

Andrew Marsh, FIMI, Engineering at Ezi-Methods, discusses the key features of an ‘electrified’ vehicle and where the recycling opportunities lie.

 

Electrification – profitable future or white elephant? f
Andrew Marsh

The transport sector usually undergoes a seismic change, which becomes evident with the benefit of hindsight. Consider in 1900, investing in steam power, spirit power (petrol) or electric power – the major trend in a tiny, emerging market was dominated by the latter. Back then, there was great public alarm over speeding self-propelled vehicles, resulting in many types capped at just 4 miles per hour, complete with a person walking ahead complete with a red flag as a warning. Usefully a hose, equipped with its own brain, could be capable of 40 miles per hour, which the very same public had already accepted for centuries.

London and other major cities rarely travel as fast as 4 miles per hour, even today.

Electric battery-powered vehicles faded as fast as they rose, so by the early 1900s, the ‘spirit’ powered vehicles dominated. Yet, overhead lines powered electric trams and buses, which were ripped out during the 1960s only to be put back in at huge expense over the past two decades.

Thanks to legislation passed by those more interested in the process than the strategy, we now have industrial-scale change underway due to punitive taxation of vehicle manufacturers to force them to pay up or build a proportion of ‘green’ vehicles, through to taxation devices that do much the same thing for those who use a vehicle supplied via their employer. Add to this mix various city Mayors who preen over their town/city, and the triple whammy becomes apparent: Individual tax penalties at national level, individual tax penalties at local level, and tax penalties for the companies building vehicles. Welcome to ‘electrification’.

All change                                                                                                                   

The addition of electricity to a vehicle’s propulsion system is labelled by political/legal types by the made-up word –  ‘electrification’. Quite simply for those who believe this is the ‘future’ (so 1900, don’t you know) or those who don’t want to see, the parc is changing, and resistance is futile.

Way back in 1997, at the unveiling of the very first Toyota Prius, which came to market with substantial investment from the Government of Japan to solve the problem of competing with diesel powertrains using a petrol engine combined with on-board electric power storage and motors – a powerful change was initiated.

The modern pure electric vehicle needs circa 40 kWh to remove most ‘range anxiety’ leads to a nett weight gain of around 300kg compared to internal combustion engine-powered versions of the same model. However, there’s the problem: The new vehicle sector has migrated from vehicles that are identifiably, uniquely ‘hybrid’ or ‘pure electric’ to ‘what would you like?’

This is what we will look at in this article, how to identify what type of propulsion system is on a vehicle if we are not sure.

Orange, a significant colour

Some time ago, the automotive industry decided without formalising an international standard that any wiring connecting high(er) voltage systems would have orange coloured insulation. This means most wires or cables that are typically thinner and multi-coloured transport either 12V or 24V.

Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle (MHEV):

System features: Can be used with petrol or diesel internal combustion engines, offers StopStart to reduce emissions whilst idling and can capture energy during braking.

Battery technology: Li-Ion, latest chemistries, capable of accepting rapid charging for regenerative braking, typically 0.5 to 1.0 kWh.

Battery location: On the underside of the vehicle, under the front seats.

Other HV component locations: Can be found inside the vehicle and behind the front bumper.

External charging? Not possible – no charge port.

Typical system voltage: 48V

Electrification – profitable future or white elephant? p one

Jaguar Land Rover PTA platform with a self-contained 48V battery and inverter module fitted to the underside, below the front seat. The system works with a smart starter/alternator to not only recover energy during braking, to re-start the engine when warm but also can input energy whilst the engine is running. © Jaguar Land Rover

Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV):

System features: Can be used with petrol or diesel internal combustion engines, offers low-speed electric-only drive, starts the internal combustion engine only when the demand (accelerator) demands it, and can capture energy during braking.

Battery technology: NiMH or Li-Ion, the latest chemistries, capable of accepting rapid charging for regenerative braking, ranging from 1.3 to 1.5 kWh.

Battery location: Inside the vehicle, under the rear seats, under the boot floor or on the underside.

Other HV component locations: Can be found inside the vehicle, behind the front bumper and above the transmission.

External charging? Not possible – no charge port.

Typical system voltage: 100V, to around 400V in the power controller/motor.

Electrification – profitable future or white elephant? p two

12th generation Toyota Corolla hybrid, with the power controller above the transmission, electric motors inside the transmission and traction battery pack inside the body, under the rear seats. © Toyota Motor Europe

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV):

System features: Can be used with petrol or diesel internal combustion engines, offers electric-only drive for up to 30 km, starts the internal combustion engine only when the demand (accelerator) demands it, and can capture energy during braking.

Battery technology: Li-Ion, latest chemistries, capable of accepting rapid charging for regenerative braking, ranging from 5 to 31 kWh.

Battery location: Inside the vehicle, under the rear seats or in the boot floor.

Other HV component locations: Can be found inside the vehicle, behind the front bumper and above the transmission.

External charging? Yes, via the charge port. This can be located on the front bumper/grille, or the front wing, or the rear quarter panel (on the opposite side of the diesel or petrol fuel filler) or the rear bumper. The charge port will have one of several ‘standard’ connector formats, and be capable of transferring energy at a slow pace from a 240V household socket or a 420V three phase socket for more rapid charging.

Typical system voltage: 100V, to around 400V in the power controller/motor.

Electrification – profitable future or white elephant? p three

Mercedes-Benz MFA platform hybrid, where a 10.1 kWh traction battery pack is fitted with its own carrier frame on the underside, beneath the rear seats. The power electronics are located above the transmission and the electric motor inside the transmission. The package is used on A-class W177, B class W247, CLA C/X118, GLA W247 and GLB W247. Other PHEV models can have even bigger traction battery packs. © Mercedes-Benz

Electric Vehicle (EV):

System features: All power comes via the battery, to drive, to heat, to cool, to power lights, to power the service brake system and more. In addition, the system can capture energy during braking.

Battery technology: Li-Ion, latest chemistries, capable of accepting rapid charging for regenerative braking, ranging from 30 to 110 kWh.

Battery location: On the underside of the vehicle, under the main floor.

Other HV component locations: Can be found inside the vehicle, inside the rear quarter panels, underneath the boot floor, underneath the front luggage area, as well as behind the front bumper and front wing. The vehicle is literally alive.

External charging? Yes, via the charge port. This can be located on the front bumper/grille, or the front wing, or the rear quarter panel. The charge port will have one of several ‘standard’ connector formats, and be capable of transferring energy at a slow pace from a 240V household socket or a 400V three phase supply for more rapid charging.

Typical system voltage: 200V+, to around 600V+ in the power controller/motor.

Electrification – profitable future or white elephant? p four

The EV to beat if it’s not called ‘Tesla’: Porsche Taycan was the first product to use the Volkswagen J1 platform, with the battery pack located on the underside between the front and rear subframes. The platform has rear-wheel-drive with the option of adding another motor to power the front wheels too – this picture is of the four-wheel-drive version. © Porsche SE

Throughout, you can see the extent of the ‘orange wires’ fitted to each application. These are the life-blood of the electrical high voltage system, with other additional harness wires carrying the vital communication between multiple powertrain control modules. Typically, these control modules will include:

  • HV battery energy flow monitoring, voltage monitoring and core temperature monitoring
  • Traction motor rotor position sensor, motor core temperature monitoring
  • Power electronics energy flow monitoring, module temperature monitoring
  • DC/DC inverters
  • AC/AC inverters
  • On-board charger module (PHEV and EV only)

Condition of the entire system down to each module is important because malfunction will hopefully send the high voltage system to sleep (break down) or may cause serious damage to expensive assemblies such as the traction battery. Each connector, each harness, each module needs to work perfectly.

Surprises ahead

From the early days of the present electrification movement, cooling was found to be vital. Early applications soon developed water-cooled motor and power electronic modules because the assemblies could be made smaller and also operate in optimised conditions. This soon extended to larger traction battery packs.

Why?

The high voltage battery pack gets hot when it’s charging and hot when it’s discharging. Further, if the battery gets too hot or too cold, the performance tails off dramatically. The battery needs to operate in a thermal window that is roughly between 0 C and 80 C. Similarly, the efficiency of the traction motor and the power electronics tails off if the operating temperature gets too high. Subtly the traction motor and power controller need cooling in ways that are similar to an internal combustion engine, whereas the demands for the traction battery are tougher since cooling and heating has to be available.

So, modern HEV / PHEV / EV systems have:

  • One cooling system for the high voltage system
  • One cooling system for the powertrain (the internal combustion engine for HEV and PHEV, the electric motor for EVs)
  • Integration of the cabin air conditioning system to the cooling system to access more cooling.
  • Addition of heating system for the battery (PHEV and EV)
  • Addition of a heat pump to help reduce the electric load running the cabin heating / AC system (EV only). This may involve a different refrigerant – not R134a or R1234yf, but R744 (CO2)
  • Multiple coolant switch over valves to allow coolant to move between circuits
  • Electric coolant pumps – typically one per circuit
  • Electric motor-powered AC compressor

Electrification – profitable future or white elephant? p five

CO2 refrigerant is used in the heat pump assembly for Volkswagen Group’s MEB platform, here seen as the Audi Q4 e-tron. The whole approach to high voltage system cooling is nothing like that required for internal combustion engines. © Audi AG

Remember, for an HEV and PHEV, once the internal combustion engine stops, so do all the engine driven ancillaries. Air conditioning, heating or even the service brakes are required when the engine is stopped, so these systems have to be powered by electricity. 

In terms of thermal management, these vehicles are very sophisticated. If the vehicle detects a malfunction in any part of the system, it will shut down or reduce available electric power (limp home mode). Since many of these systems are ‘new’ to the automotive industry aftermarket, it is quite tough to take all of this in and then ensure all systems function properly after a collision repair.

Hunting for clues

Let’s consider a vehicle that needs to be checked out, (and we already know it could be powered by a petrol engine, a diesel engine, an MHEV system with either type of engine, an HEV or a PHEV), that progression is roughly in order of cost liability in terms of critical system damage – a badly damaged turbo petrol engine cooling pack at one end of the scale and a destroyed high voltage traction battery at the other. So if we can’t identify the type of system from the external badges or from the VIN data, here’s how we can discover which powertrain is fitted:

  • Clue 1: Are there any orange wires to be seen when viewing the powertrain? If so, this could be an MHEV, HEV, PHEV or EV.
  • Clue 2: Are there two external flaps for refuelling? If so, this is a PHEV.
  • Clue 3: Are there two coolant expansion bottles? If so, this is an HEV or PHEV.

Electrification – profitable future or white elephant? p six

The Mercedes-Benz MFA PHEV has not one but two coolant expansion bottles. © Mercedes-Benz

Power down

In the beginning, the 12V electric system was the key to de-activating the high voltage electric system. The term ‘power down’ means isolating the high voltage system since the energy stored in the traction battery remains. The early systems typified by Prius I and II simply required disconnection of the 12V battery, and the system was re-commissioned by re-connecting the 12V battery – with a few simple re-sets.

For the past decade, the sophistication of the high voltage control system has meant it has to be de-commissioned (or powered down) by software, followed by accessing a special connector and then disconnecting the 12V battery. To recommission, the system the process is reversed. The operation puts the traction battery to sleep – failure to follow this process means the process to re-commission the system is significantly longer and more intricate.

Additional body systems such as powered tailgate and window lifters will also still need to be re-set.

The opportunity to get this wrong without vehicle manufacturer instruction information is significant, and the associated costs to recover the situation can be significant too.

Crucially the traction battery condition needs to be checked. If there is any external damage, it needs to be scoped and may prompt advice to replace the entire pack. Whilst many vehicle manufacturers offer instructions to enable stripping battery packs, this is not easy, nor should it be tackled in the main area of a collision repairer’s workshop. Generally, this requires a dust-free, clean room. Further, many of the traction battery packs are contained in metal cases that are sealed and have an internal vacuum. If the case is opened, it will need to be re-sealed and tested after reassembly.

The high voltage control modules are effectively not ordinarily serviceable, and the same applies to the traction motor.

Outlook

This has been a snapshot of the current evolution of electrification, where vehicle manufacturers have addressed as many market opportunities as possible by offering multiple powertrains. So, in the space of one decade, we have moved from ‘petrol/diesel engine’ to at least four additional options – MHEV, HEV, PHEV and EV.

The offering will change as legislators move taxation penalties to discourage or encourage certain powertrains. The first to be hit has been the PHEV, but the technology offers significantly more potential than HEV. There will be a normalisation in time, but the current chaotic evolution will continue for at least another decade.

The recycling opportunities mainly lie with MHEV, HEV and PHEV, where the biggest sales volume is and will continue to be. For the strip/resale, the main value will be in the traction motor/transmission, power controller, charge port (PHEV only) and the battery, as long as it appears to be in good condition. In terms of raw materials, copper content is significantly greater in all cases compared to a non-electrified vehicle.

Recycling opportunities for EVs will remain specialised, due to the relatively small sales volumes. For strip/reseal, the main value will be the traction motor module(s), power controller, charge port and the battery. The latter is very dependent on the condition. For these larger battery packs, there is another use, which is mostly un-tested – power generation companies want to acquire these energy storage systems for use in the National Grid but seem unwilling to pay for it.

The repair of HV batteries is possible – vehicle manufacturers already publish processes to do this – but the content remains dedicated to a model range or even a single model type. This makes extraction of battery components for re-use tricky, and it will take years for the format to standardise.

This is what the powertrain revolution looks like at ground level today. It is very sophisticated and engineering centred. Recyclers have the front row seats. 

If you would like to get in touch with Andrew, please email him at andrew.marsh@autoindustryconsulting.com or visit www.ezimethods.com

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