Fraunhofer Project Explores Applications for Longer Electric Vehicle Range
The Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (Fraunhofer IZM) in Berlin has announced a new project aimed at increasing the range of electric vehicles (EVs).
Dubbed SiCeffizient, the project is a collaboration between Fraunhofer IZM researchers and the institute’s industry partners.
The collaboration focuses on optimizing not only EVs’ batteries but their whole powertrain systems.
A power inverter for Porsche power trains. Image used courtesy of Fraunhofer IZM.
The SiCeffizient Project
According to the researchers behind the SiCeffizient project, substantial improvements to EV’s efficiency would be possible by enhancing the powertrain’s power inverters.
For context, power inverters are responsible for converting the direct current from the battery into the alternating current that drives the electric motor.
High electric currents then flow through the power inverter and its transistors, and the accumulated heat is discharged over cooling elements (in the case of EVs, often water).
In order to increase the efficiency of EVs, the researchers behind the SiCeffizient project manufactured transistors using performant, silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors.
The team then redesigned the SiCs’ cooling elements to allow the semiconductor to remain cooler while maintaining the same dissipation rate, particularly during vehicle acceleration, braking, and high-speed traveling.
To achieve these results, the researchers 3D-printed thin cooling ducts (fins) that support the metal plates holding the transistors like columns in a dome.
This not only intensified the cooling effect but also prevented the thin metal plate from deforming under load.
According to Eugen Erhardt, responsible for the SiCeffizient project at IZM, the new drivetrain optimization may potentially extend the range of electric cars by up to six percent
Fraunhofer IZM: an Overview
The Fraunhofer Society is a German research organization counting 72 institutes spread throughout the country, employing roughly 28,000 individuals, and holding an annual research budget of about €2.8 billion.
The Society is also reportedly the biggest organization for applied research and development services in Europe.
Fraunhofer IZM, in particular, focuses on the research, development, and system integration of electronic components.
The institute has been operating for more than 25 years, and its 450 employees have been collaborating since its establishment with partners from both industry and academia.
Fraunhofer IZM is currently working to address technological challenges in a variety of industries, including automotive and industrial electronics, medical engineering, ICT, and semiconductor technology.
An Academic/Industrial Collaboration
Moving forward, the SiCeffizient project will proceed through testing at Robert Bosch facilities in the coming months.
Bosch is a Fraunhofer IZM project partner and has in the past few years invested substantially in energy research, releasing a 48-Volt Automotive Li-ion battery for hybrid vehicles in 2017, and entering the automotive silicon carbide race in 2019.
After testing by Bosch, the following stage of the SiCeffizient project will see the Porsche company install the power inverter in a novel drivetrain, designed to match the SiC structure.
According to Erhardt, however, these are still preliminary tests, and it will be some time before the technology is available commercially.
“We still have some way to go before the device is ready to go into production,” he explained. “In the first instance, we are pulling everything together to create a prototype. The individual process steps will then need to be further optimized.”
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