Why is GaN Technology Preferred to be Used in Electric Vehicles?

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Editorial Team - everything PE

Apr 1, 2024

Power Electronics is the technology that enables effective management of electrical energy in an electric vehicle. Electric vehicles have electric traction motors as their key component, providing the mechanical energy to propel the electric vehicle. The energy that powers these electric motors can either be stored in an electrochemical energy source like a battery or an ultracapacitor or generated by the vehicle’s engine as in the case of hybrid electric vehicles. To set these motors into motion, energy needs to be transferred from the onboard energy source to the motor in a controlled manner. The aim is to generate a rotating magnetic field within the motor to meet the load requirement. The coordination between these phases of energy transfer, transformation, and control is made possible by the power electronic system within the electric vehicle. 

Power Conversion in Electric Vehicles

Power converters are the critical components of EV power electronics. These converters are made up of high-power semiconductor switches that use different switching states to change the magnitude and waveform of the voltage and current between the input and the output. In addition to converting the electrical energy, they manage the power flow through the vehicle. This power flow can be in various directions such as from the battery to the wheels, from the grid to the battery, or even from the engine to the battery or wheels in the case of a hybrid EV.

Various switching devices like MOSFET and IGBT are being used in power converters. These power electronic switches can turn on and off at high switching frequencies, typically from 100 Hz to 100 KHz. 

Gallium Nitride (GaN) is a wide bandgap semiconductor material that offers several advantages over traditional Silicon-based power devices such as MOSFETs and IGBTs. The GaN-based switches turn on and off faster than their silicon counterparts.

The performance of GaN switch transistors is much better than that of Si-based switch transistors which is mainly reflected in the following five aspects. 

  • Higher breakdown voltage
  • Faster switching frequency
  • Lower on-resistance
  • Withstand high temperature
  • Lower switching losses

Key Advantages of GaN in EV Power Conversion 

  • Enhanced Efficiency: The efficiency of GaN-based devices is superior to that of silicon-based devices. The use of GaN-based power electronics in EVs reduces power loss during energy conversion, thereby extending the driving range of EVs on a single charge. 
  • Fast Charging: GaN-based chargers for electric vehicles offer fast charging capabilities, enhancing the convenience and efficiency of EV charging.
  • High Power Density: GaN devices are capable of handling high power densities and thereby deliver more power in a smaller footprint. This is vital in EVs where space is limited and minimizing weight and size is essential for improving performance and increasing the powertrain's efficiency.
  • Compact Size: GaN technology enables the design of compact and lightweight automotive power electronic systems compared to silicon-based solutions. This scaling of size and weight results in an overall weight saving in the EV, improving its performance and efficiency.
  • Improved Thermal Performance: GaN-based devices generate less heat compared to silicon-based counterparts. They have better thermal performance allowing them to operate at higher temperatures without significant degradation in performance. This is particularly important in the electric vehicle environment, where components may be subjected to varying temperature conditions.

Benefits of GaN Technology in EV

  • On-Board Charger (OBC): The adoption of GaN power devices in EV onboard chargers enhances their efficiency by lowering power dissipation and switching losses. This results in reduced power loss during EV charging, yielding a more cost-effective and energy-efficient onboard charger. The efficiency of the GaN device in turn reduces the cost and complexity of cooling system design. This effectively reduces the overall weight and size of the OBC, setting free space for other aspects of EV design. 
  • Traction Battery Converter: A traction battery converter manages the flow of power between the traction battery pack and the electric motor that drives the electric vehicle. The integration of GaN devices into the traction battery converter improves the overall vehicle efficiency, performance, and range, contributing to the widespread usage of electric vehicles.
  • Auxiliary Battery Converter: An auxiliary battery converter controls the power flow between the main traction battery and auxiliary systems of the EV such as lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), power steering, etc that operate at low voltage, typically in the range of 12 V. The use of GaN-based devices in such converters improve efficiency, reduce size and weight, enhance performance, and provide scalability for future advancements in EV technology.
  • Traction Inverter: A traction inverter converts DC power from the EV’s traction battery into AC power that is used to drive the electric motor(s). The propulsion system of an EV which consists of a traction inverter and electric motor is much more efficient than an IC engine in terms of maintenance and lifespan. However, the integration of GaN power semiconductors in traction inverter reduces power losses and results in battery energy saving and extended driving range. It directly impacts the vehicle's acceleration, range, and overall driving experience.
  • Motor Drive: GaN devices can be integrated into the motor drive system of EVs to control the speed and torque of the electric motor(s). GaN-based motor drives offer higher efficiency, faster response times, and improved thermal management compared to silicon-based drives, resulting in smoother acceleration, enhanced drivability, and extended driving range for the EV.
  • Battery Management System (BMS): GaN devices can be used in the BMS of EVs to monitor and manage the state of charge, state of health, and temperature of the traction battery pack. GaN-based BMSs offer higher efficiency, faster processing speeds, and improved reliability compared to silicon-based BMSs, ensuring optimal performance and safety of the battery system.

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