Electric Vehicle Propane Heat Pump
ZF's concept electric vehicle with propane heat pump; photo from ZF

German Concept Electric Vehicle Features Propane Heat Pump

Made by ZF, the unit, filled with 290g of R290, reduces weight with twice the cooling capacity compared to previous methods for cooling and heating e-cars.

The German electric-drive-motor manufacturer ZF has demonstrated a new concept passenger electrical vehicle (EV) with thermal management for the electric drive motor and passenger compartment supported by an 800V propane (R290)-based heat pump.

Introduced at the company’s Global Technology Day on June 29 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the concept vehicle, EVbeat, is based on the electric Porsche Taycan.

The EVbeat’s central thermal management system, called TherMaS, is the first to be developed by ZF for electric vehicles. The center of the system is a “small R290 refrigerant circuit” contained in a hermetically sealed unit that is “leak- and maintenance-free,” said ZF. It provides both cooling and heating for passengers. The system also uses intelligent software to control thermal processes for the EVSys800 electric motor, inverter and the power and charging electronics with two water-coolant circuits.

The technologies of the new ZF driveline, including the TherMaS cooling system, EVSys800 motor and inverter, will be available on the market in 2026, ZF said.

The EVbeat “sets standards for compactness, lightweight and high efficiency,” said ZF in a press release; this is in part due to the increased cooling capacity provided by the heat pump, which uses 290g (10.2oz) of R290, according to a Motor Trend article.

With half the amount of refrigerant, the propane unit doubles the cooling capacity compared to refrigerants commonly used today, ZF said, adding that it requires “significantly” less energy to operate.

The “better cooling performance [allows] higher continuous output of the e-machine,” the company noted, by helping to maintain the right temperature for performance. Oil flowing directly around the copper rods of the motor provides cooling “exactly at the point where the most heat is generated, significantly increasing performance with the same weight and installation space.”

Temperature control accounts for a “significant proportion” of EV energy consumption when operating in ambient temperatures around the freezing point, requiring between 3 and 6kW, especially during the initial vehicle heat-up phase. “Thanks to the overall thermal management, the range of the EVbeat increases by up to a third in demanding winter operation [when compared to current technology]”, the company said.

ZF reports the propane system to be more responsive and able to adjust to “lower operating temperatures that are best suited to low-speed/high-torque operation, and the higher temperatures that work well at high speeds and low torque,” according to the Motor Trend article.

The new design has “reduced space requirements and weight compared to previous approaches for cooling and heating e-cars,” ZF said. The “simple compact” design of the heat pump makes it “easy” to integrate it into EVs, the company added.

The EVbeat concept vehicle displays “an extremely efficient production vehicle, showing the potential that future electric drive components offer when we combine them into an even more efficient overall system,” explained Stephan von Schuckmann, a member of the ZF Board of Management responsible for electrified driveline systems.

Sustainable design

Seeking to pay attention to sustainability in the EVbeat, ZF designed the electric motor to use neodymium magnets rather than heavy rare earth metals and selected a natural refrigerant rather than a fluorine-based coolant for the thermal management system.

In addition, “the reduced number of components and the overall 30% reduction in system weight for the electric drive and thermal management system make a double contribution to greater sustainability – both in production and operation,” ZF said.

Since the efficiency of the electric motor depends on its thermal operating points, ZF’s driveline software anticipates the optimum operating points from the individual driving profiles and prepares the system accordingly, the company explained. Through an AI-based cloud service, the system learns a driver’s behavior and anticipates the probability of individual driving profiles to optimize energy usage.

The AI system also provides system efficiency directions for acceleration, deceleration and maximum speed to calculate an accurate and practical range before a journey.

“Our goal was to make this drive as compact and lightweight as possible while maintaining high driving dynamics and increasing efficiency in real-world operation,” said Otmar Scharrer, Head of Development for Electric Driveline Systems at ZF.

“Thanks to the overall thermal management, the range of the EVbeat increases by up to a third in demanding winter operation.”

ZF

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