We interrupt our all-Tesla-all-the-time programming for this special announcement: Genovation Cars, a company that all but dropped off the radar a couple of years ago, is partnering in a new hybrid EV battery research project that combines a high density battery pack with an ultracapacitor pack and a DC/DC converter based on silicon carbide.
If all that sounds like a heavy load to carry, guess again. Genovation and its research partner, the University of Maryland, are set on producing an energy storage system that weighs less but lasts longer than a conventional battery pack alone.
What Is This DC/DC Converter Of Which You Speak?
To be honest, “DC/DC converter” hadn’t popped up in conversation before, so we turned to our friends over at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) for an explanation.
DC/DC converters address a critical issue for electric vehicles, which is the plethora of different electrical systems drawing from the same battery, each with its own unique voltage requirements for optimum efficiency.
That includes stop-start, power steering, air conditioning, safety systems, and any number of something SAE calls “comfort priorities.” That last item in particular is bound to grow as the EV market gains mainstream traction and EV manufacturers add more bells and whistles to stand out from the crowd.
DC/DC converters are an established technology for distributing voltage, but they are not ideal for the light weight/small size requirements of EVs.
This is the nexus of interest for the new EV battery research project, which is funded by a $438,418 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Carborundum Solves DC/DC Conundrum
The new project leaves behind the conventional silicon-based DC/DC converter and focuses on silicon carbide (SiC), a compound of silicon and carbon also called carborundum.
SiC enables higher switching speeds, which significantly reduces the size of related systems. The aerospace industry has been eyeballing SiC for some years now, so it’s not surprising that the EV field would catch on.
Not coincidentally a British R&D consortium spearheaded by the company Prodrive has been working on that very same thing. SAE cites Pete Tibbles, Research Manager for Prodrive, who explains another key advantage:
The very high efficiency of the new technology also reduces the need for heavy and complex cooling systems. We have been able to reduce the size and weight [of the DC/DC converter] by around two-thirds—from around that of a flight bag to more like a shoe box.
It’s A Horserace!
The US has some catching up to do when it comes to developing a next-generation DC/DC converter, but it appears we have a secret weapon on our side.
The University of Maryland end of the partnership is spearheaded by Professor Alireza Khaligh, who leads the school’s Power Electronics, Energy Harvesting and Renewable Energies Laboratory (PEHREL).
For the second year in a row this fall, Khaligh was awarded the Best Vehicular Electronics Paper Award by the IEEE Vehicle Technology Society, a leading global professional organization.
The award was for his paper, co-written with former student and current GE Global Research Center scientist Li Zhihao, “Battery, Ultracapacitor, Fuel Cell and Hybrid Energy Storage Systems for Electric, Hybrid Electric, Fuel Cell and Plug–In Hybrid Electric Vehicles.”
As For Tesla Motors…
Tesla seems to have recovered quite nicely from last year’s spat with the New York Times. Bad press over a couple of recent vehicle fires notwithstanding, the company has a stellar safety record and it is forging ahead on the R&D side (a new battery pack patent being one example) while opening retail stores hand over fist.
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