alu power plug TUM.automotiveIT

An aluminum power plug (photo: TUM)

Engineers at Munich’s Technical University (TUM) have developed technologies that will let them replace copper with aluminum in automotive power systems.  They predicted aluminum wiring will be a major feature in electric vehicles by the end of the decade.

The engineers, working closely with technical teams from BMW, will show a demo electric vehicle, the MUTE, with aluminum wiring at the Frankfurt auto show in September.

Aluminum is lighter than copper and costs significantly less. But incorporating it in cars’ power-supply networks poses major problems scientists have been working on for years.

One of the issues they faced was that aluminum cables joined with copper connectors are “very prone to corrosion.” The TUM and BMW scientists developed an aluminum-based electrical connection concept to overcome this problem. The project was called “LEIKO” and it uses a sheet metal cage that changes the nature of the connection.

The scientists also dealt successfully with the lower electrical conductivity of aluminum.

And they started a research project to test the aging behavior of aluminum contacts in a real automotive environment. Results are expected next year.

TUM said initial results of their work show that “significant improvements” will be achieved in weight, cost and emissions through the substitution. “We expect the high-voltage on-board systems of most electric vehicles to bebased on aluminum by 2020,” TUM said in a press release.

It added that low-voltage systems will also eventually feature aluminum wiringas the price of copper continues to rise.