Stephen Lambert from McLaren Applied, explores impediments to electrification in relation to material, technological and supply chain barriers and was published in Automotive World.
Efficiency gains - both in tech and supply chain - needed to realise EV targets
Against the backdrop of a shift towards environmentally conscious solutions, both in the UK and globally, the development of electric vehicle (EV) technology is gaining considerable momentum. With the inevitable move to electrification in mobility already underway, there are still a few significant obstacles that need to be addressed before EVs can replace traditional fossil fuel vehicles. For example, there needs to be a comprehensive global effort to tackle impediments in relation to material, technological and supply chain barriers. Such efforts would be aligned with the collective initiative to reduce carbon emissions and support the roll out of EVs.
Looking ahead, the success of any EV technology will be contingent upon its efficiency. In the early days of EVs, companies were primarily focused on getting a vehicle to market. This made sense at the time as the decision for consumers was largely whether or not they wanted to buy a pure EV, a hybrid or a conventionally fuelled car. However, now that the market is maturing, manufacturers are having to differentiate their offering as consumers begin to ask not “should I buy an EV” but “which EV should I buy”. This is where efficiency comes into its own as a means of reducing charging times, improving performance and increasing range.
The advantages of silicon carbide
Given this challenge, silicon carbide (SiC) will prove to be a highly useful resource for its role in improving efficiencies in inverter technologies; inverters are key components that convert DC voltage from the battery into AC to power the electric motor. While battery and motor technology tend to get most of the credit when discussing the performance of EVs, it would be ill-advised to overlook the importance of inverters to the performance and efficiency of these vehicles.
SiC offers a number of efficiency gains over conventional inverters based around silicon IGBT semiconductors. Not only do SiC semiconductors occupy a smaller form, they also produce less heat and have lower sensitivity to temperature changes. SiC allows for smaller and lightweight inverters that require less energy to drive. While SiC is not new, the benefits it can bring to electrification have not yet been fully realised across the industry. As EV technology continues to develop, SiC will become increasingly valuable and intrinsically linked to the improvement of EV technology and the widespread consumer adoption of EVs.
The shift from 400v to 800v
The move from 400 volt (v) systems to 800v will aid the development of EV technology and encourage the growth of electrification. Through implementing an 800v-based architecture, vehicles will be able to operate with much faster charging abilities. As range anxiety and charging time is still a significant barrier to entry for consumers, this will drive the move towards 800v.
Whilst a move to 800v does produce some efficiency benefits, it is likely that we will see the move to SiC happen alongside the move to 800v, which will bring significantly more gains in efficiency than just moving to 800v. Gains in efficiency will reduce the costs of components, including the motor, cooling system and battery. This is hugely significant, as the battery is often the costliest component of an EV, and can account for as much as 50% of the total cost of a vehicle. SiC, along with the shift to 800v-based architectures, is vital in the transition to electrification.