A $2.6 million investment by AVL at its Ann Arbor technical center marks the first significant upgrade to the Michigan facility in the past decade.
The new Energy Lab provides a framework for engineers and technicians to complete battery and hybrid powertrain projects using a development and testing process refined by AVL's more than six decades of experience with engines and transmissions.
"We've been able to adapt very quickly to the hybrid vehicle market because AVL had the hardware, software, and data-acquisition tools," said Jerry Klarr, Director of North American Hybrid Programs for AVL Powertrain Engineering. "Those tools just needed to be re-engineered for battery and hybrid powertrain systems."
AVL engineers put one of their first stamps on a hybrid vehicle demonstration program several months ago.
"Toshiba came to us with a battery cell that they wanted to have integrated into a vehicle to show the capability of their technology. So we took their cell, packaged it into a module, added the controls and electronic/electrical systems, put it into a pack, and then did the vehicle integration work," said Klarr.
The Toshiba job is an example of the type of program that will occur at the new 4000-ft² (370-m²) Energy Lab located within the tech center's 40,000-ft² (3700-m²) footprint.
"Right now, we have 10 active battery and OEM development projects and another 20 requests for quotes," Klarr said during an exclusive Energy Lab tour for AEI.
Even before a planned open house in the fall of 2010, AVL's Energy Lab has drawn interest from many companies. "Our clients are newcomers to vehicle electrification, so we're seeing business from start-up companies, bus manufacturers, as well as light- and medium-duty vehicle makers," said Klarr.
Customer confidentiality considerations are omnipresent in the Energy Lab.
Said Mike Golda, Director of Laboratory Operations for AVL Powertrain Engineering: "Each pass-card-security-accessed battery test cell has an adjoining customer workstation area. Since the three test cells are windowless, customers can follow their project's in-process battery cell or pack test via a direct computer link to the data-acquisition system or by viewing the control room's 42-in HD screen that includes data-acquisition system information as well as video monitoring of the test article and a link to the facility's automation system."
Climatic influences that can plunge the temperature to -70°C (-94°F) or raise it to 180°C (356°F) are introduced to the battery cell or pack by a remote link to a mobile environmental unit located in an access hallway to the test cells.
"The test specimen is positioned underneath an insulated stainless-steel enclosure. So not only is this a cost-effective solution, but this test method is also similar to the battery pack's actual application environment, which is within a vehicle enclosure," Karr said. "And because the test cell is not a climatic test chamber, it is possible to do a climatic test and an ambient test in the same test cell simultaneously."
To simulate battery charge-discharge and other dynamic operating conditions, battery cyclers can be linked to a test cell or to the electric motor test cell/hardware-in-the-loop room. "We've created the ability to use any of the cyclers in any of the test rooms by a simple plug-and-patch system," said Golda. "Depending on the size of the battery pack being tested, it is possible to accommodate two or three packs in a test cell because of the multiple channels."
The smallest battery cycler is capable of -125 kW to +125 kW, while the largest cycler can produce -250 kW to +250 kW.
Engineers and technicians modified existing technical center infrastructure. "We altered various systems, including adapting dynamometers, to handle the high speed, high torque, high voltages, and high current associated with hybrid powertrains," said Golda. "We're also altering one of our existing environmental chambers—by installing a dynamometer through a porthole—to simulate loads on an engine, an electric motor, or other hybrid powertrains."
Other features of the ISO/IEC 17025-2005-accredited Energy Lab include a preparation area large enough for light-duty passenger vehicles or Class 8 vehicles, an electronics/battery module/pack assembly area, as well as charging stations for hybrid vehicles inside and outside the building.
"The entire Energy Lab was designed with flexibility in mind, so work space can be converted on a temporary or permanent basis to fit the needs of a growing and evolving battery/hybrid powertrain market," said Golda.