Tech Insights

Programmable Gate Drivers Enable a More Efficient Future 

April 24, 2023 by Emily Newton

Controlling high-voltage systems efficiently can prove challenging, but a programmable gate driver for insulated-gate bipolar transistors from the University of Tokyo could offer help.

As digitization and sustainability initiatives grow, large electrical systems play an increasingly central role in everyday life. However, controlling these high-voltage systems efficiently can prove challenging. A programmable gate driver for insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) from the University of Tokyo offers some improvements.


Too much connected load causes IGBTs to explode

Too much connected load causes IGBTs to explode. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


A team of researchers revealed a groundbreaking integrated circuit (IC) at the 2023 Applied Power Electronics Conference (APEC). If further tests produce similar results, controlling large-scale electrical devices could become as convenient and efficient as running a smart home.


The Need for Improved Gate Drivers

IGBTs are the go-to technology for controlling large electrical systems like cars, renewable energy systems, and industrial machinery because they can manage loads of hundreds of kilowatts. However, like many manual switches, they experience switching loss when transitioning from one state to another.

Switching loss is common in electronic devices. Since there’s a non-zero amount of time between when a system is off and turns on, there’s a window where electricity has nowhere to go, so it dissipates. This energy waste isn’t a significant problem in small, low-power devices, but it could mean considerable losses over time in a larger system.

The average electric car charger pulls more than seven kilowatts at any time. Switching loss in these high-power devices will make a bigger impact as they and similar systems become more common. Input current and temperature variations can make these losses more dramatic, furthering the need for better bipolar transistors.

Electric vehicles need better bipolar transistors

Electric vehicles need better bipolar transistors. Image used courtesy of Pixabay


The Solution

The University of Tokyo researchers found a solution in gate driver IC with automatic timing control. This timing feature operates on the same chip and can switch the system on and off automatically throughout the day, minimizing switching loss from slower, manual processes.

The gate driver works by sensing changes in the electrical current as a measure of time. Users can then program it to turn off and on at specific times, regardless of temperature fluctuations, which large outdoor systems like renewables or car chargers would encounter. This real-time, precise control minimizes the window for switching loss to occur, saving energy and helping large systems turn on more efficiently.

Including the timing feature and the regular date driver on a single IC is also helpful. In many industrial systems today, companies must manage multiple vendors and part numbers, making their large electronics expensive and challenging to control. Having everything in a single chip reduces that complexity and drives costs down.


What’s Next for IGBTs and Their Gate Drivers?

A programmable, temperature-resistant automatic timing gate driver for bipolar transistors has substantial potential. It could make industrial-grade electronics more affordable and efficient in the near term, driving increased digitization. In the long term, technologies like this could lay the groundwork for grid modernization and higher sustainability.

One of the biggest barriers to clean energy is that renewable power production varies widely depending on outside conditions. Consequently, electrical grids and the systems that rely on them need better ways to manage intermittent electricity generation and prevent waste. Reducing switching loss would help devices like smart transformers respond to real-time fluctuations more efficiently, enabling broader renewable energy adoption.

Reducing energy loss in switching would also make grids more efficient. As more systems—like cars—use electricity as their power source, minimizing waste will be an important part of ensuring the shift to cleaner technologies. These new gate drivers enable that shift.


The Future of Bipolar Transistors

The future is electric, and new gate drivers for IGBTs make electric power more reliable. As researchers delve further into this potential, industrial machines and sustainable technologies alike could see significant growth.

Many home electronics already take advantage of this same underlying concept. Bringing it to high-power systems will yield substantial benefits.