Room for improvement? E-vehicles open up a new dimension for cabin air quality

June 19, 2019

More and more automotive manufacturers are concentrating their efforts on electrification. The mega trend e-mobility is in full swing. While the most powerful argument in favor of e-cars is environmental sustainability, they can offer many further benefits. For example, the additional space in the engine compartment opens up potential for new interior features. Why not use this space to improve passenger health protection with filtration solutions that are a lot more effective than standard cabin air filters in conventional cars?

The rising focus on e-mobility as a more sustainable means of transportation has kept the automotive industry busy for many years. The e-car trend seems to be unstoppable. In 2016, two million electric vehicles were already in use globally.[1] And the figures will continue to increase at an unprecedented pace in the next decade. Volvo, for instance, recently announced it is building all new cars with an electric engine this year – cars with combustion engine will only be available as hybrid versions.[2] Other large OEMs such as Volkswagen, BMW or Daimler have not fixed a date yet, but are also investing significantly in new e-car solutions, while pioneering manufacturer Tesla is continuing to lead the way with its line of full-electric cars. In the European Union alone[3], electric vehicles are expected to account for 37 percent of all new vehicle registrations by 2030. Until we get to this point, however, some challenges still need to be overcome.

“In the U.S., the topic of e-mobility is moving forward slowly but steadily. We still have oil and gas available at low costs, so there is muted demand for alternative powertrains. However, we are convinced that demand will increase in the long run – as California and other Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) states account for 30% of vehicle sales. We at Freudenberg are already working on unique filtration solutions for e-cars together with OEMs to bring a true value-add for passengers.” Dave Lester, Regional Director North America, Automotive Filters

Moving towards eco-friendly transportation

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One of the most critical challenges is the underdeveloped infrastructure. A lack of electric loading stations discourages consumers to fully rely on all-electric cars. A compromise can currently be observed in hybrid solutions that make use of both technologies. Cities are better equipped compared to rural areas, leading to a much larger number of e-cars in metropolitan regions. Here, e-vehicles are predominantly chosen as second cars. This trend is supported by many governments offering incentives either for providers of e-mobility solutions or for e-car users and owners, in the hope of contributing to the use of a new generation of eco-friendly automobiles.

This will slow down climate change and foster the awareness for sustainable means of transportation. Thanks to the replacement of conventional combustion engines in e-cars, CO2 emissions will decrease in the long run and help to create a cleaner and healthier environment. However, e-cars still only have a global market share of below one percent. Consequently, further efforts to protect our environment from pollution and other harmful substances are still necessary. For instance, e-cars enable manufacturers to integrate larger and improved filtration systems thanks to the additional space available by removing the traditional engine.

Increasing cabin air quality

These filtration solutions are ideal for improving passenger health through more sophisticated cabin air filters. Most importantly, an increased performance of such filters makes it possible to achieve a higher level of cabin air quality. For OEMs, this is a good opportunity to develop individual cabin air filtration solutions, which they can use as an additional sales argument and feature that sets them apart from competitors. Currently, two trends can be observed: on the one hand, manufacturers who design their electric vehicles on the basis of existing car platforms often simply use their existing filter solutions. On the other hand, manufacturers who design completely new platforms for all-electric vehicles usually develop their own air-conditioning systems, and consider innovative filtration concepts at the same time.

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This is why cabin air quality and e-mobility often go hand in hand. A powerful example for a new understanding of passenger health protection in e-cars is Tesla’s Model X launched in 2015. During the press event for the model launch in Los Angeles, CEO and co-founder Elon Musk discussed the sophisticated cabin air filtration solution in detail. According to Musk, it is up to ten times larger than standard car filtration solutions and provides best in class performance.[4] This shows that cabin air filters can be much more than just a commodity. Passenger health is an important aspect in the design of new e-cars. Even if e-cars will reduce emissions in the long run, passengers currently still have to struggle with strong pollution entering the car when en route. In Europe alone, transportation is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.[5] Hence incorporating innovative cabin air filtration solutions is sure to pay off in terms of health protection, especially in urban areas with strong pollution.

“We expect e-mobility to remain a niche in Europe until 2021 with some countries such as Norway or the Netherlands leading the way. The image change is closely linked with governmental funding. The e-cars of the future are being shaped right now. Their changed architecture opens up entirely new opportunities, which enable us to develop innovative and healthy filtration concepts in cooperation with the leading OEMs.” Volker Bräunling, Regional Director Europe, Automotive Filters

Highly individual cabin air filtration solutions

Existing automotive particle and gas adsorption filters keep dust, odors and bacteria out of the ventilation system (HVAC). They are designed to target mainly PM10 or PM2.5 micron sized particles. By introducing the industrial HEPA filtration concept into automotive applications, even nano-scale air pollutants like allergens, fungal fragments and submicron particles can be stopped from entering the vehicle cabin by almost 100 percent. For all-electric cars with larger installation space, multi-stage filter systems adapted to the individual requirements are also an option. This approach consists of three different stages: a pre-filter, a primary filter and a functional filter. While the pre-filter with high dust and water separating capacity is located outside the HVAC system, the primary filter in the HVAC system is used for fresh and recirculated air. Based on the progressive inner structure including a highly sophisticated layer of microfibers combined with a specifically designed layer of activated carbon, it collects even finest particles and allergens and adsorbs gaseous contaminants. A final filter stage downstream of the HVAC helps to adsorb specific gases to further improve cabin air quality.

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“E-mobility in India is connected with high hopes. The Indian government has set itself and the industry an ambitious target of transforming all cars into electric or at least hybrid alternatives by 2030. While a major governmental challenge consists in expanding the infrastructure, we at Freudenberg Filtration Technologies are already well-positioned to provide manufacturers with the required filtration technology, adapted to the needs of our region.”Ashok Pandey, Regional Director India, Automotive Filters

Since there are numerous different car types and brands, such filtration solutions usually are just as individual as the cars. Only by working closely together with the e-vehicle development engineers, the best solution can be provided. Due to the high dynamics in the e-mobility market and developing times for new car models of less than five years, manufacturers now have the chance to actively shape the future. If some of the additional space in e-cars is dedicated to innovative cabin air filtration solutions, we can actively protect environment and passengers at the same time.

Author: Ulrich Stahl Senior Project Manager Advanced Engineering for Automotive Filters Freudenberg Filtration Technologies

Barry Kellar Global Vice President Automotive Filters at Freudenberg Filtration Technologies speaks to us about Filtration for e-mobility.

What does e-mobility mean for your company?

E-mobility changes the infrastructure of vehicles, which allows us to develop previously unachievable filtration solutions for the car cabin – and thus contribute to healthier transportation solutions.

What kind of potential do you see in connection with e-mobility for your Filtration Technologies globally?

I see great potential for new and more efficient filtration solutions thanks to the new freedom of design that e-cars offer. When the OEMs dedicate some of this extra space to health, we are able to use it for an entirely new level of air quality. I see filtration technology as an important element to protect passengers. It is kind of a ‘health device’ within the vehicle.

What are the goals of the company regarding e-mobility?

Consumers are becoming more aware of the opportunities of better filtration in vehicles. Our top goal is to improve their quality of life. This is why we are pushing cabin air filtration further together with the leading OEMs. Ultimately, we want to be the go-to company for all manufacturers seeking best-in-class filter performance.

What innovations are Freudenberg putting into new filter solutions for e-cars?

We are looking for new approaches, e.g. how to adapt HEPA filtration to the automotive market or develop new multi stage filtration solutions. We are working closely with our customers in the different regions to design solutions that match their specific requirements. Since every region has different environmental challenges, customized filters are the key to success.

How would you describe the solutions that Freudenberg offers for e-cars in three words?

Revolutionary – because of the new possibilities in design and space.

Imaginative – because we have entirely new technological possibilities to shape the HVAC and filtration system of tomorrow.

Healthy – because we can deliver new solutions that improve the cabin air quality for a large number of people.

[1] Source: International Energy Agency – “Electric vehicles have another record year, reaching 2 million cars in 2016”; June 2017

[2] Source: FAZ – „Volvo nimmt langsam Abschied von Benzin und Diesel“; July 2017

[3] Source: Spiegel online – “Getting away from oil”; January 2017

[4] Source: Huffington Post – “Tesla’s Elon Musk Gives VW a lesson in clean air at model X launch”; September 2015.  

[5] Source: The Guardian – “Power to the EV: Norway spearheads Europe’s electric vehicle surge”; February 2017.

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