Transportation Electrification – Where Will it Take Us?

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering, Taiwan Semiconductor, America




What I like to call the “electrification of transportation” is the fundamental transformation of the way we will transport ourselves over long distances. The driving forces to becoming a fully electric vehicle (EV) automotive market are energy efficiency and infrastructure.

Automotive electronics is all about reliability, and we know that higher efficiency results in lower temperatures and higher reliability. And energy efficiency is key to the propulsion of the vehicle: the less power wasted in the conversion process, from source to storage to load, the more available for propulsion. To meet efficiency requirements for EVs, technologies must be refined and developed, from on-board and off-board charging stations to both passive and active components like connectors, capacitors, magnetics, as well as both conventional silicon and wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, silicon carbide and GaN devices. 

Another important design development, though not as often discussed, is packaging. The higher-power market is likely to see co-packaging of multiple devices in specific modules, such as multi-phase power modules as a complete stage, perhaps, with or without the control electronics included. Since most often the reliability of electronic systems is a result of the interconnect failures, minimizing the complexity of the number of interconnections makes a significant difference. One WBG supplier even advocates for eliminating the package for individual devices.

For electric vehicles to be practical, size must be reduced and weight must be minimized, since every pound of weight translates into less payload. The military often requires transportation technology to meet requirements for SWaP – size, weight and power – with power being power consumption, as in efficiency.

If efficiency is the holy grail of power electronics, the limiting factor in EV design is the battery. Batteries are large and weigh a lot, so propelling themselves down the highway is costly to the weight budget. Plus, the power used to charge the battery and the power coming out is not 100% and over time efficiency degrades with age and use.

For these reasons, a great deal of EV R&D has been directed at batteries. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I counted over 54 battery conferences globally. Imagine, if you attended one battery conference every week, you couldn’t see them all. Still, we should assume the interest in battery and charger development for this market will continue.

Meanwhile, hybrid electric vehicles, or HEVs, which aren’t as dependent on charging, seem to be a stopgap on the way to full electrification of the automotive market. For practical, 400-500-mile range EVs to become mainstream, we’ll need the charging station infrastructure to replicate the ubiquity of today’s filling stations -- meaning lots of external charging stations and/or internal charging inverters. 

Going forward, every aspect of electronics for electric vehicles will require pushing technology boundaries in power devices, components, packaging and batteries. There is a growing need for sophisticated electronic systems for control, infotainment, propulsion, battery management, navigation, body electronics, communications and more.  If you can innovate products that meet AEC-Q automotive requirements, you’ll likely find EV/HEV to be a very good market.