New Tech Creates Lighter, More Powerful Electric Vehicles

First Posted: Oct 15, 2014 10:39 AM EDT

Scientists may have found a way to make electric vehicles lighter, more powerful and more efficient. They've used 3D printing and novel semiconductors to create a power inverter that may change the future for electric vehicles.

At the core of the new development is wide bandgap material. This material is made of silicon carbide with qualities that are superior to standard semiconductor materials. Power inverters can convert direct current into the alternating current that powers the vehicle. This new inverter achieves a much higher power density with a significant reduction in both weight and volume.

There are also specific advantages of wide bandgap devices. These include higher inherent reliability, higher overall efficiency, higher frequency operation, higher temperature capability and tolerance, lighter weight, enabling more compact systems and higher power density.

"Wide bandgap technology enables devices to perform more efficiently at a greater range of temperatures than conventional semiconductor materials," said Madhu Chinthavali, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This is especially useful in a power inverter, which is the heart of an electric vehicle."

Another key to this new design's success in the incorporation of several small capacitors connected in parallel. This ensures better cooling and lower cost compared to fewer, larger and more expensive capacitors. In addition, additive manufacturing allowed the researchers to explore complex geometries and increase power densities.

"With additive manufacturing, complexity is basically free, so any shape or grouping of shapes can be imagined and modeled for performance," said Chinthavali. "We're very excited about where we see this research headed."

The findings reveal a possible new way to lower costs in electric vehicles. This could be a huge step forward in making these vehicles accessible to everyone and lowering the cost for electricity to power them, as well.

The work was presented at the Second Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Workshop on Wide Bandgap Power Devices and Applications. 

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