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Interview with Dr. Harenbrock: The future of electromobility starts now

Whether plug-in hybrid, fuel cell- or battery-electric: new drive systems are changing the way we drive and the way we think about mobility. The benefits of an electric car speak for themselves: low emission levels, no pollutant emissions from the powertrain and quiet driving. Which ultimately means electric cars are better for the environment than cars with combustion engines if charged with “green” electricity – and the production processes are optimized for smaller carbon footprints. This is just one of the many reasons why people think electric vehicles are the future. But, alongside their sustainability credentials, driving electric cars is also extremely enjoyable. The automotive industry is developing at a rapid pace - always on the lookout for ways to maximize the range, as well as optimize the production and the protection of all system components. This is where we come in. MANN+HUMMEL works with customers to develop tailored solutions for electric cars, motors and components. We understand the demanding current and future filtration requirements and use the development expertise we have built up over more than eight decades to develop innovative filter elements and systems - always with the aim of providing our customers with solutions which integrate the necessary functions, reducing system complexity and optimizing performance.

One of the most prominent specialists in this field is Dr. Michael Harenbrock, Principal Expert E-Mobility. He identifies technology trends and analyzes market developments. He’s also a member of international networks and industry organizations and uses his insights to design new product innovations for electrified drive systems and fuel cell systems. In our interview, he reveals what e-mobility is, how it works, why it’s so important for the world, and the role MANN+HUMMEL plays. 

Dr. Harenbrock, the most important question first: Do you own an electric car?

[laughs] Sure! With its own wallbox in the garage at home. I won't say which brand it is, but I can say this much: My wife and I now find driving a real pleasure. The peace and calm when driving, the acceleration. It's wonderful.

What exactly is electromobility?

When most people think of e-mobility, electric vehicles come to mind. Vehicles like hybrids (HEV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV), cars, trucks or buses with battery systems (BEV). And of course we cannot neglect fuel cell powered vehicles (FCEV). Road-based mobility, if you like. However, my view is even broader. E-mobility is an overall ecosystem that encompasses not only (partially) electrically powered vehicles, but also the entire life cycle: from the production of battery cells, e-motors and the "green" hydrogen, through the production of vehicles and their operation with the help of the charging infrastructure, to "second use" and recycling. So for me, electromobility not only means less emissions, hence car air pollution, and less noise from cars and trucks etc., but also an approach to sustainability that starts way before you hit the road.

So the "how" is crucial. How does MANN+HUMMEL and how do you ensure that you are on the right track as far as new forms of mobility are concerned?

To this end, it’s crucial to always stay current with emerging technologies - in other words, to constantly pick up on and evaluate new technology trends. Valuable sources for monitoring include international conferences and networks across the entire value chain. Both my colleagues and I as Principal Expert E-Mobility are members of many international networks and industry organizations. And of course, to remain a leader in the field of filtration, MANN+HUMMEL as a business is a member of various associations and organizations. As electric mobility is a team sport, we also partner in publicly funded projects. Another example of our commitment and innovative spirit is our membership of the Hydrogen Council.  No matter what drive systems our customers use, we are a strong partner with a wide range of solutions.

And what about off-road electrification? Does MANN+HUMMEL offer an extensive filtration portfolio there too?

There are already plenty of applications beyond road-based mobility. From electrified construction and agricultural machinery to forklifts and fuel cell units for combined heat and power generation, or future applications in the marine and aviation fields.

We know you’re a fan. Personally, what are the most important benefits of electric cars for you?

Yes, I'm enthusiastic about clean mobility, absolutely! The most important point is sustainability: electric mobility is cleaner than conventional driving because the CO2 emissions of the car while driving are zero in the best case, provided the car is charged using green electricity. And as already mentioned, I also see the benefits as a vehicle occupant: In contrast to combustion engines, the full power is immediately available in an electrically driven vehicle (PHEV, BEV) - this leads to good starting behavior. Plus, although there is some driving noise, sound emissions are much lower than with combustion engines.

Different drive types and technologies, numerous definitions: Can you briefly explain how electric vehicles work?

What all technologies have in common is that electric current is used to either support the combustion engine, hence to reduce fuel consumption and the CO2 emissions, or to drive purely electrically via the electric motor. The required electricity is either generated "on-board" (recuperation of braking energy, MHEV, FHEV) or stored externally by charging the battery (PHEV, BEV). Fuel cells are different. Here, the electricity is generated directly in the vehicle by a chemical reaction between oxygen from ambient air and hydrogen carried in the tank. This decouples the electric range from the vehicle weight. This is similar to the internal combustion engine, where the range does not depend on the size of the engine. Either way, the electricity is then converted and made available via “power electronics” so that it can be used for propulsion.

Why is e-mobility so important for people, nature and industry?

Because electric cars release far fewer emissions than vehicles with conventional drive systems. However, it’s still important to clearly distinguish between two types of emissions: CO2 as a greenhouse gas that massively accelerates global warming. And then NOx, particulate matter, etc. as harmful emissions that have a negative impact on people's health and life expectancy worldwide. Don’t forget: Electric vehicles also emit particulates such as brake dust and tire wear. This is one of the challenges of e-cars. However, MANN+HUMMEL has developed a number of solutions here that capture brake dust and tire abrasion right where they are generated, before they can be released into the ambient air. One example is our innovative brake dust particulate filter, which is mounted close to the brake caliper and traps particulate emissions directly at the source. 

The perfect keyword: What role does filtration from MANN+HUMMEL play in clean, green mobility?

Our mission has been the same since 1941. We separate the useful from the harmful. For electrified drive systems, this means we remove contamination from liquids and gases, thus increasing the robustness and service life of systems in electrified drive trains. We bring more than 80 years of experience to this new field. Amazingly, when we started working on the topic of filtration for electromobility, it looked as if there would be little to no requirements - but that has changed massively. We're even using completely new technologies now!

Can you give us an example of where MANN+HUMMEL's experience with combustion engines is applied?

Particularly when it comes to fuel cell efficiency, we don't just offer individual components, but combine various components into complete systems. Here we benefit from the fact that air treatment for fuel cells is similar to that for combustion engines, but even more demanding.

Why is filtration so important for e-mobility?

As with conventional drives, contamination can damage important components of e-drives. Our goal is to maximize and optimize the lifetime and performance of fuel cells, e-axles or batteries and to ensure reliable temperature and humidity management. Whether humidifiers forfuel cells, filters for battery systems or complete systems that can protect the entire drive: If e-vehicles are to run for a long time and, above all, safely, we must protect their components from contamination and ensure optimum performance.

What are the main drivers for filtration and separation in electromobility?

Firstly, there is cooling and heating the battery system and the fuel cell. Our filters ensure that the cooling media are protected from contamination and always operate in the optimal temperature range. Fuel cells also require clean supply air. Which means separating particles and absorbing harmful gases. Also important: If the electric motor, power electronics and transmission are integrated into a compact unit, this is known as an electric axle or electric drive unit. These e-axles must be optimally lubricated and cooled. For this, we offer customized filtration solutions: from spin-on filters to complex, function-integrated filtration modules. And then there’s protecting battery systems against water ingress, overpressure and battery fires. 

MANN+HUMMEL offers a special application that uses membrane technology, right?

Correct. Our combined pressure compensation/emergency degassing element uses semi-permeable membranes that allow air to pass through, but reliably retain particles and liquids. In normal operation, the air exchange compensates for pressure differences between the environment and the battery system interior that could otherwise lead to deformations in the battery system housing. In the event of gas release from a battery cell, the membrane ruptures and the resulting overpressure can be quickly dissipated to prevent further damage. The product has already been in series use by an increasing number of customers for almost ten years

Are there other application areas where your cleaner mobility portfolio is being used?

Innovative OEMs are really interested in better air quality in vehicles, i.e. reducing particulate matter and harmful gases such as nitrogen oxides. Our multi-stage cabin air filtration systems with highly efficient HEPA filters can protect vehicle occupants even from ultra-fine particles. Sensors and intelligent management ensure control in line with demand. To minimize the system's energy consumption and achieve optimum air quality in the passenger compartment, different filtration levels must be intelligently interconnected: A smart system will filter according to the current air quality outside. Smart system control is particularly important for BEVs where the traction battery supplies the energy needed to run the system, which reduces the electric range. Our products can minimize this energy loss. 


Professional career

Dr. Michael Harenbrock studied organic chemistry and has been with MANN+HUMMEL for over 24 years. After various responsibilities in the area of research and business development, he has been working in the field of filtration for alternative drive systems since 2013. As Principal Expert Electric Mobility, Dr. Harenbrock is now an expert for the filtration of xEV and fuel cell vehicles at MANN+HUMMEL.

If I want to "refuel" my batteries, I need a charging station. How does MANN+HUMMEL filtration help with the charging process?

The charging infrastructure also needs filtration solutions, especially fast charging stations. Here, we offer air filters that clean the cooling air drawn in from outside for the electronics and protect it from contamination. Our approach leads to higher energy efficiency and lower noise pollution from the cooling fans.

Dr. Harenbrock, thank you for your insights.

Thank you. I am proud that we at MANN+HUMMEL actively assume our social responsibility for cleaner mobility and show what’s possible - and that I can shape my role in this. We must never forget: We are doing this above all for a world worth living in for our children and grandchildren.

Driving Cleaner Mobility


Filtration and separation technologies are a vital part to make the world a cleaner place.

Learn more about innovative filtration solutions and how MANN+HUMMEL is driving cleaner mobility, and reducing the negative impact of transportation on climate, the environment and humankind in this video.