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Aussie breakthrough on EV heating

Partial funding: Victorian exports and trade minister Richard Dalla-Riva announced a $50,000 grant to Futuris through the Global Export Engagements Program.

MicroHeat car heater set to revolutionise the way electric vehicles are warmed

General News logo20 Sep 2011

AUSTRALIAN-based international automotive supplier Futuris is preparing to target global electric vehicle makers with a ground-breaking heater that can provide instantaneous heat at 98 per cent energy efficiency in a device not much bigger than a mobile phone.

American EV technology leaders Tesla and Fisker – already customers for Futuris components such as seats – will be high on the list of potential clients for the device, which not only cuts the amount of energy required to heat a car but helps to slice weight by several kilograms over conventional car heaters that weigh up to eight kilograms.

Developed over two years in partnership with the Melbourne-based company that patented the technology, MicroHeat Industries, the automotive MicroHeater is said to help increase the cold weather driving range of electric-powered and plug-in hybrid vehicles by slashing the amount of electricity drawn from batteries to keep vehicle occupants comfortable.

Unlike a conventional car heater that uses water circulated from the hot engine to warm the cabin – a luxury that electric vehicles do not have – the MicroHeat system uses two electrodes in a closed water stream to energise the fluid just before it enters the heat exchanger in the dashboard.

A conventional electric fan then blows air through the heat exchanger to warm the car.

Because water – or a special glycol liquid used in car systems – is a conductor, the electricity excites the molecules instantaneously. A sensor and microprocessor control the temperature to within one degree to avoid energy waste.

80 center imageLeft: Futuris Automotive Interiors managing director Mark De Wit. Below: Tesla Model S and Fisker Surf interiors.

The system, which is also being developed by MicroHeat for a wide range of commercial and domestic applications, is said to be much more efficient than current EV heaters that rely on conventional electrical heating elements to heat the vehicle, with a resultant drag on the lithium-ion batteries used to power the car.

Apart from its thermal efficiency and low weight, the MicroHeater is much more compact than conventional car heaters, providing dashboard packaging opportunities for car-makers that are always looking for ways to make components smaller and lighter and make way for the growing number of on-board gadgets such as sat-nav.

And, unlike conventional car heaters, occupants do not have to wait for the car engine to heat up sufficiently to generate cabin warmth, as the MicroHeater reaches operational temperature in seconds.

Futuris is already making prototype automotive MicroHeaters at its Port Melbourne facility in Victoria and says it will be ready to make its pitch to car-makers from about March next year.

The marketing of the product is being supported by the Victorian Government, whose manufacturing, exports and trade minister, Richard Dalla-Riva, today announced a $50,000 grant to Futuris through the state Global Export Engagements Program to help promote the device to companies in China, the US, Europe and Japan.

Mr Dalla-Riva said the MicroHeater had the potential to generate $30 million in exports up to 2020, as well as creating 50 new jobs.

Futuris Automotive Interiors managing director Mark De Wit told GoAuto that to date his company had held only informal talks with a couple of motor companies regarding the potential application for the device in full-electric and hybrid vehicles.

He said the MicroHeater was still only at prototype stage and that it would take about six months to refine the design into a form ready to be shown to motor companies.

Mr De Wit said the development of the MicroHeater was coming to fruition just as car-makers around the world were developing electric vehicles that needed efficient heaters of minimal size and weight.

“We think there is a great opportunity for us in this area, which is new for us,” he said.

Futuris, a fully owned subsidiary of Elders Limited, specialises in automotive interiors and control systems, including car seats, roof linings, door trims, carpets, steering systems, pedal systems and airbag modules.

Founded in Australia, with its headquarters in Melbourne, Futuris now has facilities in China, Thailand, the United States and South Africa, employing a total of 1500 people – 875 of them in Australia – and generating about $350 million in global revenue.

It supplies all three Australian car-makers – GM Holden, Ford and Toyota – and also has contracts with Mercedes-Benz, American electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle start-ups Tesla and Fisker, and Chinese manufacturers Chery, JAC, GAC Gonow and Brilliance Auto.

Futuris and its partner company Air International – a major manufacturer of automotive air-conditioning systems – are major partners in EV Engineering, a consortium of Australian automotive parts suppliers and related businesses created to develop a rear-drive Australian electric vehicle to promote the local production of EVs and help to secure their future in a low-carbon transport industry.

EV Engineering is building seven prototype EVs in a sectioned-off area of the Futuris-Air International warehouse in Port Melbourne, immediately next door to the fledgling Futuris MicroHeater operation.

Mr De Wit said Futuris had not yet discussed the application of MicroHeat technology in the EV Engineering prototypes, but the device would have great potential for the project once it was ready.

He said Futuris was yet to establish the production cost of the MicroHeater, but the material costs would be much lower than with large conventional car heaters.

The MicroHeat technology is set to be featured in a Victorian exhibit at a Chinese trade fair to be attended by Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu.

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