2011 Toyota Prius

Toyota may have an ace up its sleeve in the fuel economy wars, as it's developed a new type of semiconductor that will allegedly help the company's hybrids net a ten-percent improvement in fuel economy.

The tech is still in development, although Toyota is already reporting five-percent gains during testing, six years before it plans to implement the new semiconductor in production vehicles, meaning the ten-percent improvement doesn't seem like an untenable goal. That is, until you hear from Kimimori Hamada, the project general manager of Toyota's electronics division.

"We are aiming for great improvement in fuel economy and miniaturization," Hamada told Automotive News. "This is a very challenging target."

The new semiconductors are made from wafers of silicon carbide, rather than just silicon. The compound is far more efficient, losing just a tenth of the energy that's lost from a normal silicon semiconductor. That not only makes the semiconductor more efficient, but it allows Toyota to use a power control unit that's 80 percent smaller.

While the initial results are promising, silicon carbide is considerably more expensive than silicon, and once acquired, it's more difficult to work with.

"There are still enormous technical barriers," Hamada said.
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