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Home Engineering: Technology, News & Trends Compact Power Modules Drive Electrification of Automobiles

Compact Power Modules Drive Electrification of Automobiles

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Smart charging

Irina Huber joins Gregory Green, Global Marketing Director, Automotive at Vicor, and Haris Muhedinovic, Principal Application Engineer, Automotive at Vicor, to discuss the High-Density Power Module solution, exploring how it can be used to enable redundancy and fast charging to accelerate power system design.

According to the latest reports, vehicle electrification has unleashed an unprecedented wave of research and development, including the optimization of power supply networks and local and global charging infrastructures. The complexity of the problem necessitates exploring new approaches and developing creative solutions. High-density power modules bring tremendous flexibility to design, scale, and adapt to the rapid pace of today’s vehicle electrification.

Two-way Charging and Smart Charging

GREEN, two-way charging, and smart charging are complementary. Essentially, two-way charging refers to using the car’s battery to power another load; whereas smart charging refers to system intelligence that allows the car to understand and manage the load it is powering.

Looking at smart charging from the perspective of a charger, a home charger is a device that can provide electricity whenever appropriate. For example, if the solar panels on your roof are connected to the internet, it’s easy to predict how much electricity can be converted and used on the next sunny day. The smart charger processes this information and then waits for the most reasonable time when electricity is available to charge the car.

MUHEDINOVIC, Bosch is building a complete smart charging infrastructure. The infrastructure communicates with power plants about current electricity prices, the adequacy of the grid’s supply capacity, and the source of energy. Smart charging thus monitors the entire charging infrastructure – the car, the solar panels, the grid, communications, and the energy provider.

GREEN, this is already a reality. In the UK, for example, from mid-2022, all wall chargers will need to be compatible with smart chargers and will need to be networked to provide feedback. Most of Tesla’s DC chargers already do this.

How Does Two-way Charging Work

GREEN, Bidirectional charging is the use of a vehicle battery to power another load. This can take many forms including vehicle-to-grid (V2G), vehicle-to-home (V2H), vehicle-to-load (V2L) or vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V).

A few vehicles can supply power to other loads, such as the Nissan Leaf and Ford F150. they can deliver 3.6kW of AC power.

Bi-directional charging requires monitoring, which is where Smart Charging comes in – monitoring and managing the flow of power through the system. Smart charging can use bi-directional power to enable and optimize V2G, V2H, V2L or V2V.

What is Vicor doing to ensure that every EV is compatible with DC fast charging stations on motorways to eliminate range anxiety and accelerate the future of EVs?
  
MUHEDINOVIC, We think the main challenge is compatibility. Today’s cars use two voltages, 400V or 800V – the higher the voltage, the faster the charge.

The problem is that most roadside charging posts are 400 VDC. To achieve fast charging, OEMs need to take steps to step up from 400 V to 800 V. Some Tier 1 suppliers have introduced solutions for this, but they are very bulky, weighing in at around 15 kilograms. These solutions take up a lot of space and reduce range.

The incompatibility between 800V batteries and 400V chargers can be solved by “battery virtualization”. With this method, the charger “sees” a 400V battery on one side of the onboard charger, even if the other side is connected to an 800V battery, which is possible with Vicor’s technology.

In terms of weight, Vicor’s high-density, high-power modules, such as the Sinusoidal Amplitude Converter (SAC), are only 3.5 liters in size, enabling battery virtualization without adding size, weight, or complexity. The weight advantage means a longer range.

Bidirectional charging

New Approach to Power Supply Architecture

GREEN, Among other benefits, Vicor offers power and voltage scalability. Vicor’s compact power modules can be placed in parallel to easily increase power as needed. This means that OEMs only need to characterize and validate one component, which is a significant advantage that can help OEMs introduce differentiated systems and get them to market faster.

MUHEDINOVIC, Using Vicor’s power modules, different vehicles can use very different power supply networks (PDNs) without the need for design expertise or a significant investment of time. The small number of components used allows OEMs to quickly configure a unique PDN for their xEV platform. Ease of configuration, flexibility, and scalability are key features of Vicor power modules. They are the perfect solution for designing today’s rapidly changing EVs.

How Important is Power Redundancy For the Future?

MUHEDINOVIC, As the demand for self-driving cars continues to grow, so does the need for more reliable power architectures. As a result, there is a strong focus on FIT (Failure In Time) rates. To achieve the FIT rates required for ASILD-rated or special function autonomous driving for individual components, OEMs are implementing redundancy to help them meet low FIT rate requirements. To achieve this, they often implement redundant power supplies to ensure that at least one set of power supplies is always available to power a given load.

Sometimes manufacturers rely only on batteries and DC-DC converters, but they may also provide two separate paths using high-voltage batteries to power low-voltage batteries, which is an important factor in ensuring safe redundancy in future EVs. As purely mechanical systems are increasingly replaced by electrified functions, such as electronically controlled steering and electronically controlled braking, it is very important to ensure that these systems can function properly, even if the high-voltage battery fails or is temporarily unavailable. If the low-voltage battery is lost, a DC-DC converter will power these devices, and if the DC-DC converter is lost, another set of power supplies will be available to power the steering and braking systems.

There are several ways to achieve this, and Vicor’s advantage is that Vicor’s architecture provides the required redundancy in a much smaller size and weight than its competitors. For example, while other solutions can be up to five liters in size, Vicor provides full functionality in less than two liters. This further simplifies the architecture and takes up much less space.

GREEN, Vicor’s technology utilizes a sinusoidal amplitude converter (SAC), which enables battery virtualization and has the potential to eliminate low-voltage batteries in vehicles while still providing power redundancy. This helps optimize the power supply network and ensures high performance and efficient power conversion.

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