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4 March 2014

Electric vehicle to be largest application of wide-bandgap power semiconductors by 2020

In the last century, silicon-based power electronics (which control or convert electrical energy into usable power) transformed the computing, communication, electric vehicle and energy industries and gave consumers and businesses more powerful laptops, cell phones and motors, but over the coming decade that era will begin to come to an end, according to the IDTechEx report ‘Power Electronics for Electric Vehicles 2014-2024’, which spans inverters to battery management systems.

Wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors now offer new opportunities to achieve unprecedented performance while using less electricity. In particular, WBG semiconductors such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) can operate at higher temperatures, have greater durability and reliability at higher voltages and frequencies, and be smaller, more efficient and cost less, notes the report. A WBG-based inverter (switching electricity from direct current to alternating current) can be four times more powerful, half the cost, and a quarter the size and weight of a traditional inverter, it is reckoned.

Indeed, the adoption of WBG semiconductors is already happening, notably in photovoltaic power generation, followed by more general power grid applications, says IDTechEx. Next, WBG power semiconductors are expected to transform the plug-in electric vehicle (EV) industry, making it easier and cheaper to own an EV and/or give it longer range - they can reduce the size of a vehicle cooling system by about 60% and cut the size of a fast DC charging station (e.g. 60kW) to the size of a kitchen microwave.

The power conversion in future EVs will encompass things such as converting high DC voltages to lower DC voltages in fast charging, converting AC to DC in other charging, converting low voltage DC to higher voltage DC in photovoltaic and thermoelectric energy conversion in the vehicle, and in photovoltaic roadside chargers, for example. The cost of the electronics and electrics in an EV will rise sharply as a consequence of this, as well as the electrics and electronics replacing mechanics (as when clutches and differentials are eliminated). In due course, the electrics/electronics will become equally important as a component of cost and performance in an electrical vehicle, reckons the report. Although EVs have tougher requirements on cost, size, weight and performance, they should be the largest WBG application by 2020, it concludes.

Tags: Power electronics GaN SiC inverters

Visit: www.idtechex.com/power

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