Auto Supplier Bosch to Manufacture Silicon Carbide Chips That Can Extend the Range of EVs
German automotive supplier Robert Bosch is launching production of silicon carbide (SiC) automotive chips, a move that can make electric vehicles more efficient, thereby increasing their range, Reuters has reported.
Silicon carbide has benefits over traditional silicon chips, including better conductivity and cooling performance in high temperature environments. The SiC chips are well suited for use in electric vehicles.
SiC semiconductor material can operate at higher voltages with lower leakage current. SiC transistors and diodes can also function at higher frequencies at a higher temperature, without compromising reliability. SiC chips have fewer crystal defects compared to silicon-based materials, making them highly suitable for power chargers in electric, hybrid, and fuel-cell vehicles.
"Silicon carbide semiconductors bring more power to electric vehicles. For motorists, this means a 6% increase in range," Bosch board member Harald Kroeger said on Monday.
SiC-based power semiconductors are used in the on-board charging units in electric cars and the technology is well suited for the traction inverter of electric vehicles. In a electric vehicle, the purpose of the traction inverter is to convert DC current from the electric vehicle's battery pack to AC current to be used in the electric motor to drive the vehicle's propulsion system.
The traction inverter also plays a significant role in capturing energy from regenerative braking and feeding it back to the battery. Since SiC chips can withstand higher operating temperatures, there is less of a need for complex cooling circuits that add to the development costs of electric vehicles.
"If you look at what 6 percent more range could mean for a manufacturer who has to shoulder the heavy costs for an EV battery that might be as big as 100 kilowatt-hours, we believe the added expense for a silicon carbide chip makes a lot of sense and we expect this technology to eventually prevail," Kroeger said.
Bosch declined to comment on customers for the new microchips. Bosch is a key supplier to German automakers Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which are all expanding their EV lineups to counter Tesla.
Electric automaker Tesla is using SiC chips
Tesla is already using silicon carbide MOSFETs for its main inverter in the Model 3, according to reverse engineering analysis conducted by engineering firm Munro Associates. Other electric automakers are still evaluating the potential benefits of the technology.
"The automotive market is definitely the center of focus when people discuss SiC power devices. SiC activities from the pioneers, such as Toyota and Tesla, have brought a lot of excitement and noise to the market," said Hong Lin, an analyst at Yole Développement to Semiengineering.com in 2018. "SiC MOSFETs have potential within the automotive market. But there are several challenges, such as cost, long-term reliability and module design."
Tesla uses silicon carbide MOSFETs for the main inverter in the Model 3 (Photo: MotorTrend)
Bosch will make the SiC chips at its existing plant in Reutlingen, near its Stuttgart headquarters the company's executives said at an event to update on progress in building a new, 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion), chip fabrication plant in Dresden known as the ‘"fab." The Dresden fab is Bosch's largest single investment in the region.
Bosch will use silicon wafers with a diameter of 300 mm that make it possible to pack more chips onto a single wafer than existing production methods using diameters of 150-200 mm.
Bosch also wants to strengthen its position in so-called Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) that are built for a specific purpose and in power electronics that manage everything from a car's electric windows to its drivetrain.
The first production run at the facility in the center of Germany's high-tech hub known as ‘Silicon Saxony' is planned for late 2021. Bosch said the ‘fab' will employ 700 people.
Bosch is already a leading supplier of electronics to the auto industry. The company ranked as the sixth-largest supplier on the $38 billion automotive semiconductor market last year with a share of 5.4%, according to Strategy Analytics. Bosch is positioning itself as a supplier of the full range of semiconductor products for the electric, connected and self-driving cars of the future.
The average car contains chips worth $370, according to industry estimates, but that figure rises by $450 for electric vehicles. Another $1,000 in chips is estimated for vehicles capable of autonomous driving, making advanced semiconductors a growth opportunity in the auto industry that is quickly moving towards electrification.
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