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Home » Applications & Technologies » Power Semiconductors Driving the Electric Vehicle Industry Electronics
Applications & Technologies

Power Semiconductors Driving the Electric Vehicle Industry

By Landa Culbertson, Mouser Electronics

With more than 6.5 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road today, and annual worldwide sales projections by Pike Research reaching 3.8 million by 2020, demand for semiconductors in the automotive environment is heating up. In fact, Semicast Research calculates that "revenues for original equipment (OE) automotive semiconductors grew by 12% to USD $25.5 billion in 2012, while the total semiconductor industry is judged to have declined by almost three percent to USD $292 billion."

Let's take a look at Infineon Technologies, STMicroelectronics, Freescale, and NXP Semiconductor – four of the top five OE automotive semiconductor vendors in 2012 per Semicast, all with products available through Mouser Electronics. Although the Semicast top five list has remained unchanged since 2006, the desire for longer driving range between charges, faster battery charging times, increasing electronics integration for infotainment, safety and security, and other applications may drive advancement up the list by companies with a focus on power management. Therefore, we'll also consider Texas Instruments, the leading power management semiconductor supplier in both 2010 and 2011, according to analysis by IHS iSuppli.

Insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs)

IGBTs have long been at home in the switch power supply market, and they comprise the largest segment of the market for EV power systems. Yole Développement forecasts that the EV market will help drive IGBT growth to $6 billion by 2018. All of the top five OE automotive semiconductor suppliers owe their ranking in part to long-standing IGBT sales, except Freescale Semiconductor. In April 2011, Freescale announced a strategic alliance with Fuji Electric Co., Ltd., to collaborate on IGBTs.

Freescale best describes the IGBT and its function in the EV environment in its press release: "The IGBT is a high-voltage, high-current switch connected directly to the traction motor in a hybrid electric or electric vehicle. It takes direct current energy from the car's battery and, through the inverter, converts the alternating current control signals into the high-current, high-voltage energy needed to commutate or turn the motor. The IGBT is an ideal motor inverter switch for 20KW to 120KW EV motors due to its high efficiency and fast switching. The more efficient the IGBT, the less power is lost to wasted heat, resulting in better mileage or ‘miles per watt' (MPW) of energy."

Infineon Technologies

Vehicle electrification involves voltage levels between 12 and 400 volts, and with 40 years of experience in high-power electronics and the automotive industry combined with 10 years of experience in electromobility, Infineon has a strong advantage in the EV semiconductor components market. Indeed, Infineon lays claim to being a leading supplier of high-power IGBT modules for drive and traction applications for decades.

Infineon targets five key areas within the electrified vehicle with solutions to optimize power efficiency, ranging from high-power modules, microcontrollers, and power semiconductors to sensors and discrete components. The first area is the main inverter, which controls the electric motor to determine driving behavior and captures kinetic energy released through regenerative breaking, feeding recovered energy back to the battery. The second is the dc/dc converter module, which supplies the 12V power system from the high-voltage battery. Third are the auxiliary inverters/converters, which supply power on demand to systems such air conditioning, electronic power steering, oil pumps, and cooling pumps. Fourth is the battery management system, which controls battery state during charging and discharging to enable the longest possible battery life. And the fifth area is the on-board charger unit, which allows the battery to be charged from a standard power outlet.

STMicroelectronics

ST has been supplying the automotive market for 20 years and proposes complete solutions for EVs, including solutions for electric traction and energy recovery, power steering, automated manual transmission, the cooling system, pumps, and power management. Key products for EVs include microcontrollers, power MOSFETs and IGBTs, rectifiers, EEPROM memories, protection devices, voltage regulators, and power management system ICs.

Table 1: A few of ST's new products and the targeted EV applications

Device Description and Application
STTH6010WY Automotive Ultrafast Diodes for rectification in the battery charging system
STW62N65M5 Power MOSFET, 650V - 46A for PFC Stage of battery charging systems
ST7580 Power Line Networking SoC integrates EV charging systems to the smart grid
SPC56x SPC5 32-bit automotive microcontrollers for powertrain, safety, chassis,
SM4TY Transil Automotive grade over-voltage protection: Power-rail transient voltage suppressors from 400 – 3000W

Freescale Semiconductor

Starting as a division of Motorola in 1948, Freescale is one of the first semiconductor manufacturers in existence. With a strong history of pioneering innovation in automotive, including the development of intelligent power switches for anti-lock brake systems, the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) inertial sensors for automotive airbags, and the telematics microprocessor for General Motors' OnStar, Freescale is positioning to continue its success with the emerging EV market.

The addition of IGBTs to the Freescale portfolio through a strategic alliance with Fuji Electric Co., Ltd., enables Freescale to offer all of the major electronic components of EV systems, including microcontrollers, analog gate drivers, battery monitoring ICs, and power IGBTs.

NXP Semiconductor

Formerly a division of Philips, NXP has more than 50 years of experience in semiconductors. Under the direction of CEO Rick Clemmer since 2009, NXP now focuses on high-performance mixed-signal products. Other products, including power and integrated discretes such as IGBTs, still defined 30 percent of NXP's business as of 2011.

Building on NXP's leadership in car entertainment, near-field communications technology or NFC (NXP co-invented NFC with Sony), car access, and in-vehicle networks, the company's strategy is to drive secure connected mobility. Car-to-car communication, car-to-infrastructure communication, remote car management, and broadcast reception are some of NXP's automotive focus areas.

Texas Instruments

The world leader in power management semiconductor sales historically has been less prominent with regard to technical innovation in the automotive market, but recent developments point to TI becoming a strong contender.

One such development is the availability of TI's new 0.25 um, high-voltage analog process technology (LBC7HV). The first products using this process technology were released in November 2012. Able to support operation up to 700 volts, the LBC7HV process enables TI to now produce products suitable for the higher voltage applications in the EV environment.

TI has also begun to build up a portfolio of IGBT and silicon carbide (SiC) power MOSFET gate drivers with the introduction of the UCC27531, UCC27532 for EV charging applications. SiC-based MOSFETs are a promising alternative to IGBTs, purportedly offering faster switching speeds, lower switching losses, and easier drive.

Safety is a main concern for cars and their drivers; therefore, ISO 26262, an international functional safety standard for electrical and electronic systems in automobiles, was published in November 2011. Examples of automotive applications that must meet the standard include EV battery management, steering, braking, transmission, and powertrain. TI is a member of the ISO 26262 working groups and leads the semiconductor subgroup.

Table 2: A few of TI's new products and the targeted EV applications

Device Description and Application
bq76PL536A Stackable Li-Ion battery monitor/protector for (H)EV Battery Management Systems
LM5122 Multi-phase boost controller for conditioning 12 V during start-stop
TPS43330 Single boost/Dual buck controller to power infotainment systems during start-stop
TPS2543 USB charging port/power controller for charging smartphones, tablets, and notebooks
DRV320x 3 Phase Motor Driver-ICs for automotive safety applications

The Emerging Landscape

The automotive world is changing rapidly. Six-month sales data suggest that in the first half of 2013, all-electric vehicle sales in the United States unexpectedly overtook sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (EVs that also have a combustion engine) for the first time. Whatever the level of electrification of the vehicle, though, from mild hybrids to battery-only, it is sure to require semiconductors, and you can find "the newest products for your latest designs" at www.mouser.com

Landa CulbertsonLanda writes from Dallas, TX. She holds a BSEE, and has 18 years experience in the electronics industry, from tech startups to Fortune 500 companies.

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