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Power Electronics

[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

First look at all-new Voltec propulsion system for 2G Volt; “the only thing in common is a shipping cap”

October 29, 2014

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Cutaway of the new power electronics unit, which is much smaller than in gen 1, and which is now integrated into the drive unit housing. The power electronics and the motors use separate cooling: water for the PE and ol for the motor unit. Click to enlarge.

The second-generation Volt, which makes its world debut in about 10 weeks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, features a clean-sheet, all-new Voltec propulsion system—new battery, new electric drive unit, new power electronics and new range-extending engine. At an introductory media briefing on the new powertrain held at the Warren Transmission Plant in Michigan, where the new drive unit will be built, Larry Nitz, GM Executive Director, Transmission and Electrification, noted that the only common part between the gen 1 and gen 2 drive units was a little yellow plastic intra-plant shipping cap for the manual selector.

The battery cells, with a tweaked NMC/LMO chemistry from LG, increase storage capacity by 20% volumetrically when compared to the original cell. The drive unit features a large number of changes: new roles for the two motors, two clutches instead of three, and a smaller power electronics unit integrated into the housing among them. (No more big orange high-voltage cables underneath the hood.) The new direct-injected 1.5 liter engine with cooled EGR features a high compression ratio and is optimized to function in its range extender role.

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Siemens integrates EV motor and inverter in single housing; common cooling and SKiN

October 17, 2014

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Siemens has developed a solution for integrating an electric car's motor and inverter in a single housing. Click to enlarge.

Siemens has developed a solution for integrating an electric car’s motor and inverter in a single housing. The motor and the inverter, part of the power electronics which converts the battery’s direct current into alternating current for the motor, have up to now been two separate components. The new integrated drive unit saves space, reduces weight, and cuts costs.

The solution’s key feature is the use of a common cooling system for both components. This ensures that the inverter’s power electronics don’t get too hot despite their proximity to the electric motor, and so prevents any reduction in output or service life.

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ORNL team uses 3D printing and WBG semiconductors to make smaller, more powerful inverter (update w/ metrics)

October 15, 2014

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Prototype inverter. Click to enlarge.

Using 3-D printing and novel silicon carbide (SiC) wide band gap (WBG) semiconductors, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have created a prototype power inverter for electric vehicles that achieves a much higher power density than currently available along with a significant reduction in weight and volume—almost meeting, and in terms of efficiency, beating, DOE’s 2020 targets.

The prototype stems from a two-year $1.45-million DOE-funded project to integrate wide bandgap (WBG) technology and novel circuit architectures with advanced packaging to reduce cost, improve efficiency, and increase power density.

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DOE awards $17M for vehicle technologies; batteries, PEEM, engines, materials, fuel

August 21, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding $17.6 million in 14 cooperative agreements with small businesses and institutions of higher education to develop and to deploy efficient and environmentally friendly highway transportation technologies that will help reduce petroleum use in the United States. The awards made under an Incubator Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000988) issued in January. (Earlier post.)

The newly selected projects are in five areas: energy storage; power electronics and electric motors (PEEM); advanced combustion engines; materials technologies, and fuels and lubricant technologies. Awardees are:

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Lux: future use of wide bandgap materials in power electronics will reduce EV cost

August 12, 2014

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Power savings in plug-in vehicles versus total savings per car. Source: Lux. Click to enlarge.

Using wide bandgap (WBG) materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN)s for power electronics can improve efficiency and thereby reduce the high cost of battery packs, according to a new report from Lux Research. In the new report “Silicon vs. WBG: Demystifying Prospects of GaN and SiC in the Electrified Vehicle Market,” Lux projects that SiC will be adopted in electric vehicles in 2020.

As silicon struggles to meet higher performance standards, WBG materials are benefiting critically from evolving battery economics. As an extreme example (because of the very large battery pack), Lux notes that on Tesla Model S, a 20% power savings could result in gains of more than $6,000 in battery cost—8% of the vehicle’s cost.

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Google and IEEE launch $1M challenge for downsized inverters

July 28, 2014

Google and the IEEE have launched the Littlebox Challenge—an open competition to design and build a small kW-scale inverter with the highest power density (of at least 50 W/in3, or 3.05 kW/L) in an enclosure of less than 40 in3 in volume (0.66L). The winning inverter, which will receive a $1-million prize, will be the unit which achieves the highest power density while meeting the required specifications under testing for 100 hours. In the event of a tie on volume, efficiency will be used to determine the grand prize winner. The grand prize winner will be announced sometime in January, 2016.

Google and IEEE are emphasizing size reduction in their challenge, without targeting a specific application area such as automotive. As a few points of comparison, the Bosch INVCON 2.3 inverter used in the Fiat 500e has a volume of about 5 liters, while the motor inverter used in the 2010 Prius drivetrain has a volume of about 5.4L (according to a DOE deconstruction.) The peak power density of the 2010 Prius motor inverter is 11.1 kW/L (while the peak PD for the Lexus 600h 6.4-liter unit reaches up to 17.2 kW/L.)

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Consortium successfully runs silicon carbide multiport DC-DC converter in EV

July 11, 2014

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Silicon Carbide multiport DC-DC converter fitted to the Tata Vista EV. Click to enlarge.

A consortium led by motorsport and technology company Prodrive has successfully run a silicon carbide-based multiport DC-DC converter in an electric car. The converter controls power flow between multiple energy sources and has been able to achieve efficiency of 98.7%, while increasing power density and reducing the size and weight of the converter when compared to silicon-based systems.

A key aspect of the converter is the use of silicon carbide devices. These operate at a much higher frequency than equivalent silicon components—at 75 kHz in the test vehicles—with a significant reduction in switching losses. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the size of the magnetic components and has enabled the converter to achieve an efficiency of 98.7%, a gravimetric power density of 10.5 kW/kg and a volumetric power density of 20 kW/liter.

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Toyota and Denso develop SiC power semiconductor for power control units; targeting 10% improvement in hybrid fuel efficiency

May 20, 2014

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Toyota intends to leverage the benefits of high frequency and high efficiency of SiC power semiconductors to enable PCU downsizing of 80%. Click to enlarge.

Toyota Motor Corporation, in collaboration with Denso Corporation (Denso) and Toyota Central R&D Labs., Inc. (Toyota CRDL), has developed a silicon carbide (SiC) power semiconductor for use in automotive power control units (PCUs). Toyota will begin test driving vehicles fitted with the new PCUs on public roads in Japan within a year.

Compared to silicon, SiC power semiconductors lose 1/10 the power and drive frequency can be increased by a factor of ten. This enables the coil and capacitor, which account for approximately 40% of the size of the PCU, to be reduced in size. Through use of SiC power semiconductors, Toyota aims to improve hybrid vehicle (HV) fuel efficiency by 10% under the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s (MLIT) JC08 test cycle and reduce PCU size by 80% compared to current PCUs with silicon-only power semiconductors.

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Coritech Services orders Ideal Power’s bi-directional battery converters for DoD vehicle-to-grid program

May 09, 2014

Ideal Power Inc., developer of a power conversion technology called Power Packet Switching Architecture (PPSA), received a purchase order for ten of its PPSA-enabled 30 kW battery converters from Coritech Services, a provider of custom engineering solutions for a variety of applications including electric vehicle charging. Coritech intends to install the battery converters in its bi-directional electric vehicle charging system for use in Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) applications for the Department of Defense (DoD).

A new approach to electronic power converters, PPSA has a 100% indirect power transfer compared to direct power transfer from conventional power converters. All the energy runs through, and is temporarily stored in, a high-frequency AC link consisting of an inductor and capacitor.

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Siemens and BAIC form JV to produce high efficiency electric powertrain systems for NEVs

April 21, 2014

Siemens AG and Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co., Ltd. (BAIC), one of the major Chinese carmakers, signed a joint venture agreement at the 2014 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition and outlined their plan to utilize Siemens’ electric drive train components in a range of BAIC new energy vehicles (NEVs).

The JV, Beijing Siemens Automotive E-Drive System Co., Ltd., will manufacture components for the electric drivetrain including power-electronics and electric motors. The new electric drivetrains consist of a safer and higher power density inverters and highly energy efficient motors. Prototype and small volume production will start in 2014, followed by mass production in a new Beijing-based factory in 2015. The production volume is planned to be more than 100,000 units per year with upside potential.

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First “MotorBrain” prototype shown; lightweight electric motor system with no rare earth metals

April 11, 2014

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MotorBrain prototype. Integrated unit is on the left, the motor core is at the right. Click to enlarge.

The four partners in the European research project ”MotorBrain”—Infineon Technologies, Siemens, the Institute of Lightweight Engineering and Polymer Technology at the Technische Universität (Technical University) Dresden and ZF Friedrichshafen—are presenting their first prototype of a lightweight electric motor system that requires no rare earth metals.

The €36-million (US$50-million) MotorBrain effort is one of the largest single European research projects in the area of electromobility. The MotorBrain prototype integrates the motor, gear drive and inverter. The prototype is three-quarters the size of models from 2011, the year when MotorBrain began; the prototype now being presented could fit in a conventional-sized laptop or notebook backpack.

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3-year, $75.7M eRamp power electronics research project launches at Infineon

April 02, 2014

The three-year research project “eRamp”, intended to strengthen and expand Germany and Europe as centers of expertise for the manufacture of power electronics, launched at Infineon Technologies in Dresden. Twenty-six research partners from six countries are participating. Infineon, a global market leader in power semiconductors, is leading the €55-million (US$75.7-million) project.

Power electronics—the electronic components and their power semiconductors—help keep the loss of electrical energy as low as possible and help minimize power consumption in a wide variety of applications, including hybrid and electric drive systems. eRamp research activities will focus on the rapid introduction of new production technologies and further exploration of chip packaging technologies for power semiconductors.

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Zytek lightweight electric powertrain for Yamaha’s MOTIV.e city car concept

February 21, 2014

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Zytek’s lightweight 25kW powertrain drives the Yamaha MOTIV.e through a Vocis single ratio transmission. A further development of the electric machine will deliver more power and torque from the same compact package. Click to enlarge.

Yamaha’s new MOTIV.e city car concept, shown at the Tokyo motorshow, is powered by an electric drive system from Zytek that employs a range of new design approaches to minimize the cost, weight and size of the powertrain while maximizing the performance and range. By supplying a number of core high-voltage components as an optimized system, Zytek is also minimizing the time required for vehicle development.

MOTIV.e comes from the partnership between Yamaha and Gordon Murray Design, using Murray’s iStream manufacturing technology; Murray has partnered in the past with Zytek on the T.27 City Car—the technology basis for the MOTIV.e. (Earlier post). Zytek Automotive, a specialist EV/HEV/fuel cell engineering consultancy, is a subsidiary of Continental, the global powertrain, chassis and interior products supplier.

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Toyota recalling about 701,000 Gen 3 Prius vehicles in US over software issue in inverter assembly

February 12, 2014

Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., is advising the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of plans to conduct voluntary safety recalls of approximately 701,000 Model Year 2010-2014 Prius vehicles to update the motor/generator control ECU and hybrid control ECU software. This is part of a global recall for the issue.

According to the information Toyota is providing Prius customers in the US, the problem resides in the Intelligent Power Module (IPM), which is inside the Hybrid Inverter Assembly. The inverter converts high-voltage direct current (DC) stored in the high-voltage (HV) battery into high-voltage alternating current (AC) for the motor/generator. It also converts AC into DC during regenerative braking for storage in the HV battery. According to Toyota, due to problems with the software, certain transistors in the IPM could become damaged when operating the vehicle under high-load driving conditions, such as accelerating during highway driving.

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DOE to award $49.4M for advanced vehicle technologies research; meeting Tier 3 emissions

January 22, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award $49.4 million to projects to to accelerate research and development of new vehicle technologies. The new program-wide funding opportunity (DE-FOA-0000991) (earlier post), was announced by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at the Washington Auto Show.

The funding opportunity will contains a total of 13 areas of interest in the general areas of advanced light-weighting; advanced battery development; power electronics; advanced heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems; advanced powertrains (including the ability to meet proposed EPA Tier 3 tailpipe emissions standards); and fuels and lubricants. These areas of interest apply to light, medium and heavy duty on-road vehicles.

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DOE issues $10M incubator FOA for batteries, power electronics, engines, materials, fuels and lubricants

January 18, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) issued an Incubator Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOAs) for a total of approximately $10 million. (DE-FOA-0000988)

EERE is focused on achieving well‐defined mid‐to‐long term clean energy goals for the US, and in that context has established multi‐year plans and roadmaps, with a concomitant focus of the majority of its resources on a limited number of “highest probability of success” pathways/approaches to ensure that the program initiatives are supported at a critical mass (both in terms of dollars and time) for maximum impact. While this roadmap‐based approach can be a strength, it can also create challenges in recognizing and exploring unanticipated, game changing pathways/approaches which may ultimately be superior to the pathways/approaches on the existing roadmaps.

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President Obama announces new $140M public-private manufacturing innovation institute focused on power electronics

January 16, 2014

President Obama announced the selection of a consortium of businesses and universities, led by North Carolina State University, to lead a manufacturing innovation institute for next-generation power electronics. (Earlier post.)

More specifically, the Next Generation Power Electronics Institute is focused on making wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor technologies cost-competitive with current silicon-based power electronics in the next five years. Compared to silicon-based technologies, wide bandgap semiconductors can operate at higher temperatures and have greater durability and reliability at higher voltages and frequencies—ultimately achieving higher performance while using less electricity.

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CAR report quantifies automotive’s position as a leading high-tech industry

January 08, 2014

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Percentage of Global R&D Spending by Industry, 2013. Source: Booz & Company “Global Innovation”; Battelle R&D Magazine; Center for Automotive Research 2012. Click to enlarge.

A newly-released report by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) concludes that the automotive industry is not only “high-tech,” it is frequently a leader in technological developments and applications. The report, supported by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, measures the technological nature of today’s auto industry and compares it to other sectors of the economy often viewed as technologically advanced.

The report authors acknowledge the difficulty of defining “high-tech” in an ever-changing economic environment. After reviewing of the works of several researchers and government agencies, CAR developed a working definition to differentiate high-tech industries from other sectors. Broadly, high-tech industries generally have the following characteristics:

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DOE to issue FY14 Vehicle Technologies program-wide funding opportunity announcement

December 20, 2013

The Department Of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) intends to issue, on behalf of its Vehicle Technology Office (VTO), a program-wide Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000991) for fiscal year 2014 on or about January 2014. The advance notice (DE-FOA-0001053) is to alert interested parties of the coming FOA.

The areas of interest outlined in the notice of intent (NOI) fall into two broad categories: technologies to advance plug-in electric vehicles; and technologies to improve fuel efficiency, including dual-fuel, fuel properties (e.g., high octane fuels), and advanced powertrain work.

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SAE New Energy Vehicle Forum: China’s focus on NEVs may have profound impact on future of transportation

November 13, 2013

China has a number of critical economic and environmental imperatives driving its pursuit of vehicle electrification, said the roster of plenary speakers at the SAE 2013 New Energy Vehicle Forum held in Shanghai this week. These include the increasingly problematic pollution and haze in cities; China’s projected increased reliance on imported oil; the need for rationalized multimodal transportation systems in ever more congested and space-limited cities; the growing dominance of the China auto market; and the desire to have China become the leader in the next generation of automotive technology, vehicles and mobility systems.

The shift from fossil fuels to electricity—while held in common with other countries—will be based on the “specific situation” in China, making the best use of China’s own advantages and innovations, but also with international cooperation, said Dr. Zhixin Wu, Vice President of the China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC). The details of that specific situation may result in an electric vehicle parc somewhat different than in Western countries, other speakers noted, and may indeed—given the obvious scale of the China market—herald a major transformation in transportation, including the type and role of personal vehicles, others suggested.

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