Semiconductors remain key to efficient EV developments

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With more than 6.5 million electric vehicles on the road today, and annual worldwide sales projections reaching 3.8 million by 2020, demand for semiconductors in the automotive environment is heating up, says Landa Culbertson of Mouser Electronics

Semiconductors remain key to efficient EV developmentsLet's take a look at Infineon Technologies, STMicroelectronics, Freescale, and NXP Semiconductor — four of the top five OE automotive semiconductor vendors in 2012, as per Hampshire-based analyst Semicast Research, and 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) 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 to collaborate on IGBTs.

Improving the 'miles-per-watt'

Freescale best describes the IGBT and its function in the EV environment as "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 400V, and with 40 years of experience in high-power electronics and the automotive industry combined with ten 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 optimise power efficiency. These range 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 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.

Freescale Semiconductor started as a division of Motorola in 1948, so 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 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 per cent of NXP's business as of 2011.

Building on NXP's leadership in car entertainment, near-field communications technology or NFC, 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 is the world leader in power management semiconductor sales and, 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 0.25um, high-voltage analog process technology (LBC7HV). The first products using this process technology were released in November 2012. Able to support operation up to 700V, LBC7HV 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, and ISO500 for motor control. SiC-based MOSFETs are a promising alternative to IGBTs, purportedly offering faster switching speeds, lower switching losses, and easier drive.

Safety concerns

Safety is a main concern for cars and their drivers, so 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.

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



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