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Future filtration

Martin Klein vice president of engineering filter elements at Mann+Hummel, has had a long career spanning almost two decades in the filtration industry. Filtration+Separation talks to him about the future of the industry and what will be the most surprising change yet.

Martin Klein became vice president of engineering filter elements for Mann+Hummel back in 2020 just before the pandemic broke out and his responsibilities became global. “We have engineering locations for filter elements in the US, Brazil, Germany, Bosnia, Poland, India, Korea and China,” explains Klein. “When I started this role, I thought I would be travelling around the globe to meet the engineers and visiting the labs, but during Covid, everything began online. Being the new guy, it was hard to transition to Teams, because when you have long lasting relationships with colleagues you already know each other, but, being new and not being able to meet face-to-face, it’s harder to inspire interaction and really get to know each other.”

Throughout Covid, Mann+Hummel had three company principles: Keep staff safe, keep customers focused and support them and make sure the company stay financially stable. “We immediately invested in enough masks for our staff members and their families and ensured everyone could work from home. Of course, this proved more difficult for our production team, the people working in the labs, but we put things in place to make sure they were safe while working for example our own antiviral air purifiers and our labs have always been heavily ventilated and air-conditioned,” comments Klein.

“Of course as soon as the pandemic hit, lots of OEMs were stopping production, so we came to a crossroads: Do we stop production too and close some of our production plants, or do we continue and hope this only lasts a few weeks and there will be a huge demand for parts again? We decided to continue. Then of course the supply chain issues hit us, so we had to all work together, R&D, operations and purchasing to find alternative materials to work with and make sure we could continue delivery to our customers, this wasn’t easy, but we got there and made it happen,” Klein explains.

Two years on and Klein is looking at other factors that are affecting the growth of the filtration industry. “There are various angles to look at, on the one hand we believe there will always be a need for filtration, but if we look at the automotive industry, there are fundamental transformation changes now, right? The change from the combustion engines over to an electric vehicle. An electric engine doesn’t have the need for filters like a diesel engine does, however, a battery engine still needs filtration and we are providing solutions for that. Our smart cabin air filter systems do not only provide the highest level of vehicle occupant protection against the finest particles and gases but they do also increase the range of the car by reducing the energy needed for heating and cooling,” says Klein.

“Saying that, we still have around 1.5 billion diesel and petrol cars on the road globally, which won’t change over the next 10–20 years, so we will continue to supply and service parts.

Staying a step ahead
Klein was excited to talk about was fuel cells and what Mann+Hummel has been doing to ensure it is a step ahead of the game. “The fuel cell is pretty sensitive when it comes to impurities,” Klein comments.

“The oxygen which is supplied to a fuel cell is being taken out from the surrounding air and this air needs to be cleaned from particles, but also from gases like NO2 and SO2. So for quite some years we have been providing so called cathode air filters, filters that clean the surrounding air from pollutant gases and you can really see the effect of such filter on the voltage of a fuel cell when you have NO2 concentrations in the outside world, you can see the reduction of the voltage from a fuel cell, whereas when you install a filter it keeps it at a high level, so then you need filtration for this.”

A bright future
Klein and his team are working hard on changes and how they can implement them to ensure that they are driving sustainability. “The problem with parts for filters is, they aren’t usually parts you can reuse. So we have been doing life cycle assessments on our products, from cradle to grave to understand what is their CO2 footprint. Interestingly enough for a filter, the major contribution of its CO2 footprint comes from operation because you have a filter you mounted somewhere and you need energy to put air flow or liquid through it. For example, filters mounted in our buildings for HVAC, more than 90% of their CO2 footprint comes from the operation,” says Klein. “So, you look at it and go if we reduce the material a little the impact will be not significant enough, but if we were able to come up with a different material to reduce the differential pressure by 10%, then we could significantly reduce the CO2 footprint.”

Another big concern of Klein’s is recycling, and how they can make changes to ensure that they are doing their part for the environment with sustainability being such a huge issues in all industries, espcially filtration. “When I think about the most surprising change that we will see over the coming years, I think it will be recyclable filtration solutions,” explains Klein. “When you think of all the filters in Heathrow Airport that get changed every three to six months, what happens to them? They aren’t recycled, so they are just thrown away and dumped. So, when planning and designing filters for tomorrow, we need to think of recycling and sustainability, so I’m certain they will look different to today, as we have a company strategy to become carbon neutral within the next 10–20 years – and I’m happy to be a part of this.”