Fraunhofer Microelectronics

“We must develop components that convert energy even more efficiently.”

July 15, 2020

The Research Fab Microelectronics Germany (FMD) offers, in six technology platforms, a broad portfolio along the entire microelectronic value chain – from system design to test and reliability. One of these platforms is power electronics.

Dr. Grimm, you are the contact person for the Power Electronics Technology Platform – why is power electronics so important?

Power electronics is a key technology that makes our digital life possible. We now need energy in almost every situation in everyday life, and it has to be transformed in some way. Let’s take the example of charging a mobile device: the voltage of the household supply must be converted accordingly to charge the battery of a mobile phone.

What are the current challenges in this area?

Energy efficiency is of great importance, and not only since the recent debates on climate protection and a sustainable life. Along the entire value chain – from generation and transmission to consumption – energy is transformed several times. However, energy is lost with every step. Only through efficient conversions can we reduce these losses and thus the overall energy consumption.

Can you give an example of this?

Let’s take electric mobility: the range of an electric car is central to the acceptance of this new form of locomotion compared to conventional cars with combustion engines. Work is underway to increase the capacity of the batteries, but the energy in the batteries must also be used as efficiently as possible so that it suffices for as many kilometers as possible.

What is being done to increase the energy efficiency of the systems?

We must develop components that convert energy even more efficiently. To this end, our member institutes research and develop devices based on wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN). Some of these are superior to the classic silicon (Si) in their physical properties. For example, the heat losses during energy conversion are significantly lower. They thus provide the basis for new and more efficient components.

“Power electronics is the heart of electromobility” – the SiC Module project is an example of this. What significance will power electronics have with the mobility revolution?

Let’s take a look at the number of chips installed in a conventional car and, by comparison, in an electric car. According to the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI), a conventional car has chips worth €340 installed. In an electric car, the chips installed have a value of €410. Autonomous driving results in an increase. ZVEI assumes that chips worth €910 are installed in an autonomous electric car. Of course, the majority of the chips are then responsible for driver assistance systems, but everything “on board” must be supplied with power. Therefore, the energy from the battery must be converted as efficiently as possible.

How does the FMD and its technology platform address the current problems in power electronics?

With the Power Electronics Technology Platform, my colleague Dr. Stephan Guttowski and I have created an instrument with which we are bundling FMD know-how across institutes. The excellent individual skills of our member institutes are combined to form a holistic offering. Together with our colleagues from the FMD member institutes, we can thus serve the entire value chain of power electronics. This makes us a central point of contact for cooperation and industry enquiries.

Further information on the Power Electronics Technology Platform is available at: www.forschungsfabrik-mikroelektronik.de/ Power_Electronics.html

 

About Andreas Grimm: 

Dr. Andreas Grimm has been Head of the Technology Park Compound Semiconductors at the Research Fab Microelectronics Germany (FMD) since 2018. Studied nanotechnology at the Leibniz University of Hannover. Subsequently, doctorate at the Hannover School for Nanotechnology with a research stay at the Indian Institute for Technology on the topic “Epitaxy of virtual germanium substrates for III-V semiconductors.”