Staff Written, PSD
More and more governments are trying to fight global warming by signing up to restrict CO2 emissions, often with strict targets that they have committed to implement by the end of this decade. One of the areas they see as offering a quick win is the reduction of emissions from the automotive sector by encouraging the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles. Nine years to implement such a large change doesn’t sound a lot, but that time is cut almost in half when you consider that the typical design cycle for the automotive industry is around four years.
In this interim period, some manufacturers have been looking to hybrid technology to bridge the gap between the internal combustion engine and electric powertrains. Hybrid vehicles take way the range anxiety often found in fully electric vehicles. There are two types of hybrid – one where the vehicle can run on electric drive or use the internal combustion engine (ICE) independently, and as a mild hybrid, where the electric motor only kicks in to assist the engine when the vehicle starts or operates at low speed. These are the times are when the vehicle is most inefficient and using an electric motor to assist the ICE can cut emissions quite dramatically.
Vicor sees the current popularity of mild hybrid technology as an opportunity to enter the market. Making the leap to manufacturing products for the automotive sector may not be as burdensome as it could be, as Vicor has already has experience of manufacturing high-reliability products for other demanding markets. Implementation of an APQP automotive quality management system with IATF16949 certification should be in place anytime now and the first automotive qualified parts should be available in the first half of this year.
Vicor has based its current business strategy on using the 48V rail as the only intermediate step in power conversion (https://www.powersystemsdesign.com/articles/when-less-is-more/131/15613), which should also help. Of course, the automotive industry is a pretty crowded market, so new entrants are expected to bring something to the table. Vicor is targeting three areas in the vehicle – conversion between the charger and the vehicle battery to allow 400V batteries to be charged from 800V chargers and vice versa, giving drivers a wider range of charging points to use; down converting the vehicle’s 800/400V battery to 48V; and down converting 48V to 12V for legacy systems.
Vicor claims its technology is quick enough to directly down convert to 48V from the vehicle’s main battery and then again to 12V in real-time without the need for a secondary battery. Batteries tend to be heavy and require a stronger chassis to support that extra weight. Leaving out the additional battery not only saves that weight, but also makes the overall chassis lighter. If this technique succeeds, then the same practice should also apply to fully electric vehicles, providing a longer range.