Electric drive vehicles from major manufacturers, be they hybrids, fuel cell or plug-ins, all use alternating current (AC) motors to drive the wheels because they are more efficient. However, there is a little flaw with AC motors in these cars. The sources of on-board electricity (fuel cell or battery) all provide direct current. That means an inverter is required to transform the direct current to alternating. Automakers are currently scrambling to reduce the cost of all the components in electric drive systems to help compensate for the high cost of batteries.

A research team from Delphi Automotive Systems will be getting $5 million in funding from the Department of Energy along with $3 million from the company to work on inverters. The goal is to cut the cost and size of these critical components by more than half. The Delphi team will be joined by participants from Dow Corning, GeneSiC, General Electric and Oak Ridge National Laboratory as they attempt to optimize components and improve integration. The Delphi press release is after the jump.

Press Release:

Delphi Team Receives U.S. DOE Funding to Help Lower Cost of Power Electronics for Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Delphi aims at a 50% cost and size reduction in electric propulsion inverters

Release date: June 10, 2008
KOKOMO, Ind. -- Delphi Corporation announced that it has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to lead an industry-government team to develop the next generation propulsion inverter for hybrid vehicles. The new smaller inverter is lower cost and will be used on the next generation high-efficiency hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and next generation "plug-in" hybrids (PHEVs). In the longer-term, the inverter will be used for fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).

Hybrids and next generation "plug-in" hybrids help conserve energy reserves in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. The DOE and Delphi view this particular project as a key element of a strategic, public-private partnership to achieve the lower-cost technologies needed for these advanced vehicles to become more broadly accepted in the U.S. marketplace.

The Delphi-led research and design team will contribute $3 million and receive $5 million in funding from the DOE, resulting in an $8 million project, seeking to reduce the cost and size of the inverter for electric propulsion systems by 50% or more.

"We are pleased to have the opportunity to work on this exciting project," said Thomas Goesch, Delphi managing director of the Power Electronics PBU. "We have assembled a team of highly qualified industry leaders and national laboratories to identify and develop the key technologies needed for an electric propulsion inverter that meets or exceeds the DOE performance and cost targets."

The primary team members for the project include: Delphi for the inverter design, packaging, thermal management, mechanical integration, build, test and assessment of cost to manufacture; Dow Corning and GeneSiC for silicon carbide-on-silicon power semiconductor devices; General Electric for high-temperature thin-film DC buss capacitors; Argonne National Lab for ceramic capacitors; and Oak Ridge National Lab for characterization of power semiconductor devices, modeling, simulation and evaluation of alternative inverter topologies, and system testing.

Propulsion inverters provide phased AC (Alternating Current) power for hybrid vehicle traction motors and generators, as well as auxiliary pumps and drives. The propulsion inverter enables precise control over electrical power flow from the battery to the electric motor. One or more electric motors can be combined with another power source like a gasoline or ethanol engine, an engine-generator, or a fuel cell to propel the vehicle at higher efficiency than conventional engine technology.

In addition to reducing the cost and size of the inverter system, the Delphi team is taking on the challenge of enabling the system to operate at normal engine coolant-loop temperatures of 105-120° C to help reduce other system costs and the space needed to cool today's inverters.

"This will result in development of inverter building blocks that will be readily scalable to a wide range of power levels, enabling the necessary economies of scale for lower cost," said A.J. Lasley, Delphi chief engineer for advanced HEV and powertrain electronics.

"Clearly, this is the type of project that will help the economy of Indiana as well as the entire U.S.," said Paul Mitchell, policy director for economic development, workforce & energy for Indiana's Governor Mitch Daniels," particularly by reducing everyone's energy costs, but just as importantly by stimulating growth of the expertise and U.S. industrial base for advanced 'green' technology. Delphi has been a pioneer in power electronics and is building on this legacy by developing the next generation of energy efficient technologies needed to accelerate production of tomorrow's vehicles today. We are thrilled this innovative work is being led here in Indiana and in partnership with many others throughout our nation, and are hopeful the discoveries generated will lead to new high-tech jobs."

About the Team

Delphi Corporation, Troy, MI (http://www.delphi.com) is a leading supplier of mobile electronics and transportation systems globally, including powertrain, safety, steering, thermal, and controls & security systems, electrical/electronic architecture, and in-car entertainment technologies. Headquartered in Troy, Mich., Delphi has approximately 169,500 employees and operates 156 wholly owned manufacturing sites in 34 countries with sales of $22.3 billion in 2007.

Delphi has a long history of successfully developing and commercializing automotive electronics, producing more than 30,000 powertrain electronic controllers every day. Selected to provide powertrain technologies for several hybrid electric vehicle manufacturers, Delphi is a leading supplier of power electronics and committed to further developing the power and control electronics required to enable the widespread adoption of all types of electric vehicles. Delphi's leadership in developing and manufacturing these advanced electric vehicle technologies is strongly supported with more than 120 patents in advanced power electronics, battery systems, fuel cell power systems, electric machines and related electronic controls.

GE Global Research, Niskayuna, NY (http://www.ge.com/research) is General Electric's centralized research and development organization, employing more than 1900 people providing technical leadership to GE's product centers. With both research and prototype facilities, GE has extensive facilities and experience in developing and testing capacitors, which will be applied to conduct high temperature thin-film capacitor development for this program.

Dow Corning Corporation, Midland, MI (http://www.dowcorning.com) is a globally integrated provider of materials, application technology and services, and is focused on providing innovative technologies that help its customers to invent the future. Dow Corning has been developing SiC technology for more than 15 years. This work intensified in 2003, when the company acquired SiC pioneer Sterling Semiconductor Inc. and formed Dow Corning Compound Semiconductor Solutions (DCCSS). In 2004, DCCSS built a new SiC facility in Auburn, MI. For more information on DCCSS, please visit (http://www.dowcorning.com/compoundsemiconductor). Dow Corning is equally owned by The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW) and Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW).

GeneSiC Semiconductor, Inc., Dulles, VA (http://www.genesicsemi.com develops Silicon Carbide (SiC) based semiconductor devices for high temperature, radiation, and power grid applications, including devices such as rectifiers, FETs, and bipolar devices, as well as particle & photonic detectors. GeneSiC has, or has access to, an extensive suite of device design, fabrication, characterization and testing facilities for such devices. GeneSiC capitalizes on its core competency in device and process design to develop the best possible SiC devices for its customers, and distinguishes itself by providing high quality products with a focus on the customer's requirements.

Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL (http://www.anl.gov) is one of the U.S. Department of Energy's largest research centers. Chartered in 1946, Argonne was also the nation's first national laboratory. Today, the laboratory has about 2,800 employees, including about 1,000 scientists and engineers, with 750 doctorate degrees. Argonne's annual operating budget of about $530 million supports upwards of 200 research projects, ranging from studies of the atomic nucleus to global climate change. Since 1990, Argonne has worked with more than 600 companies and numerous federal agencies and other organizations.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN (http://www.ornl.gov) The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is one of the world's premier centers for R&D on energy production, distribution and use, as well as the effects of energy technologies and decisions on society. At ORNL, unique facilities for energy-related R&D are used for technology development and fundamental investigations in basic energy sciences that underpin the technology work. The broad-based research center for power electronics and electric machinery and associated technologies is located at the National Transportation Research Center (NTRC) near Oak Ridge TN. Researchers at the NTRC specialize in power electronic and electronic machinery research for development and prototyping of the next generation of cost-effective converters, adjustable-speed drives, utility and distributed power generation applications, motor controls, and efficient compact electric machines.

U.S. Department of Energy -- Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy -- Vehicle Technologies Program, Washington, DC (http://www.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels) DOE/EERE's Vehicle Technologies Program is developing more energy efficient and environmentally friendly transportation technologies that will enable America to use less petroleum. The long-term aim is to develop "leap frog" technologies that will provide Americans with greater freedom of mobility and energy security, while lowering costs and reducing impacts on the environment.

The DOE's vehicular power electronics and electric motor (PEEM) program is focused on advancing electric motors, inverters/converters, and other interface electronics to significantly reduce cost, weight, and size of electric propulsion systems, while providing the high reliability and ruggedness needed for the automotive environment. Achieving the goals of the PEEM program will enable broad-based market acceptance of advanced electric vehicles of all types, including today's hybrids and next generation "plug-in" hybrid electric vehicles that can be "refueled" by recharging its batteries electrically when parked. Achieving these goals will also provide the technology foundation necessary for even more efficient and energy-flexible battery-only electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles over the longer term.

[Source: Delphi]

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