Tesla was the catalyst; today, most major car manufacturers are readying all-electric vehicles. But the market success of zero-emissions vehicles is not assured. Ultimately it will hinge on technological advances in battery technology, on infrastructure – a network of fast-charging stations, for example — and on government mandates.
Meanwhile, the electrification of automotive transportation is proceeding apace in the areas of driving automation, safety, comfort and convenience. The motive force behind these advances are integrated circuits that sense conditions, drive actuators, convert signals, enable vehicles to communicate and make decisions, often without involving the driver.
In gasoline-powered vehicles ICs are steadily improving fuel efficiency through various techniques: Stopping the engine when it idles, recovering energy during braking and maintaining steady speeds while driving. Semiconductor-enabled, weight-reduction technologies like drive by wire, shift by wire and brake by wire further reduce fuel consumption.
In “mild hybrids” auto makers are moving toward dual-voltage systems: A 48-V battery runs power-hungry systems — starter/generator, supercharger or turbocharger, fuel pump, water pump, cooling fan – while a conventional 12-V powers lights and wipers. An even higher voltage is required for electric super-/turbocharging.
A mild hybrid does not provide independent electrical propulsion. To propel the car electrically – full hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs – a battery rated in the hundreds of volts is required, possibly supported by a lower voltage battery.
The automobile is not a friendly environment: ICs must operate reliably under extreme conditions of voltage, current, temperature and vibration. A further challenge in electrifying automobiles is dealing with high voltages safely. High voltages place stringent requirements on materials, processes, designs, packages, and qualification —the full gamut of IC technology.
Managing the batteries of hybrids and full electric vehicles is a key area for innovative high-voltage technologies. Read more about it in the white paper “Driving the green revolution in transportation.”