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McLaren Applied’s 800-V SiC Inverter for Fast Charging

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McLaren Applied is advancing toward full production of the Inverter Platform Generation 5 (IPG5), an 800-V silicon carbide inverter for faster charging, greater efficiency, and longer range. The inverter is a high-performance and sensitive component at the same time: It manages power at hundreds of kilowatts but modulates it finely, according to the wishes of the driver. With these assumptions, it is clear that a malfunction of the inverter can cause many problems for the electrified car.

McLaren Applied development the inverter technology for Formula 1 cars. It is in the process of optimizing that technology for the commercial electric vehicle industry. The company is sampling its IPG5 now, but it doesn’t expect to ramp up to commercial production volume before 2024.

“800 V is likely to become the de facto standard bus voltage for electric vehicles because it opens the door for ultra-fast charging,” said Stephen Lambert, head of electrification at McLaren Applied.

McLaren Applied is supporting high-efficiency electrification in the automotive, commercial vehicle, aerospace, and marine industries. Electric vehicles need faster charging times to compete with traditional internal combustion engines, so EV charging systems are rapidly moving toward up to 350-kW output power solutions to reduce charging times to less than 20 minutes. With such power, voltage and current levels are leading designers into new engineering challenges.

According to McLaren, OEMs may expect quicker recharge times with the IPG5 while maintaining cost and sustainability. For continuing development and testing, McLaren Applied collaborates closely with OEM customers.

The IPG5 was announced at the Future Propulsion Conference, held on March 2, 2022, at the U.K.’s National Motorcycle Museum. McLaren Applied is currently delivering prototype units to customers ahead of volume production scheduled in 2024.

SiC-Based Inverter

SiC has a wider bandgap than silicon (3.2 eV, about 3× higher than that of silicon, equal to 1.1 eV). As a practical matter, it means higher breakdown voltages, higher efficiency, and better thermal stability at high temperatures can be accomplished because more energy is required to excite a valence electron in the semiconductor’s conductive band. The low drain-to-source on-resistance (RDS(on)) of SiC MOSFETs is up to 300× to 400× lower than that of silicon devices at the same breakdown voltage.

SiC is able to overcome the limits offered by conventional silicon-based power devices. Its ability to withstand higher operating voltage, current, and switching frequency, together with excellent thermal management, makes this semiconductor the ideal replacement for silicon in several power applications, including automotive. Used in EV traction inverters, SiC is confirmed to support a longer range and more efficient drive-cycle performance.

IPG5 is an 800-V SiC inverter supporting fast charging and offering powertrain efficiency of 97% typical. IPG5 can power electric motors up to more than 350 kW peak 250 kW continuous, with a weight and volume of 5.5 kg and 3.79 liters, respectively. It is designed for automotive applications, including direct drive, to efficiently run motors at high speeds and adhere to ISO 26262 ASIL-D standards.

Steve Lambert

Lambert said that while 800V is likely to become the standard, it isn’t yet. “800-V infrastructure is limited today, but as it becomes increasingly available, more and more vehicles will utilize this infrastructure and 800 V will become commonplace. It will allow consumers to charge in a comparable time to filling a tank of petrol, whilst helping to reduce the cost of EVs by making smaller batteries sufficient for everyday use.”

“This move to 800 V will coincide with the increased use of silicon carbide, as the efficiency advantages of SiC complement the benefits of moving to 800 V,” he added. “Higher efficiency leads to a reduction in the size of components and cooling systems, making vehicles lighter and more efficient at the vehicle level. This means that batteries can be made smaller, again leading to lighter, more efficient vehicles. This ultimately means that the distance traveled per kilowatt-hour is greater [for longer range] and the kilometer-per-minute charging rate can be increased [for faster charging].”

Smaller circuits and less weight, as well as improved weight distribution and lower total power usage, are all advantages of adopting SiC technology in inverters. This is because SiC MOSFETs can operate at a significantly greater switching frequency, allowing many of the inverter’s circuit parts to be smaller. SiC devices can also operate at greater voltages and currents than traditional silicon power semiconductors, resulting in increased power density and lower switching losses even at high temperatures.

The 800-V architecture is designed to accommodate the next generation of electric cars by allowing for less electrical wiring and faster charging. SiC technology delivers a high switching frequency by allowing for a large increase in switching frequency, resulting in quicker, more efficient, and lighter transmission. Because efficient switching creates less heat, the cooling system may be smaller, lowering the transmission’s weight and cost.

800-V SiC inverter

“As the move to 800 V and SiC should reduce the amount of thermal energy produced, the need for original equipment manufacturers to allocate resources to thermal management should also decrease,” said Lambert. “This will coincide with a pull to reduce costs through the increased integration of power electronics into the wider system. Therefore, the power devices are likely to evolve to be designed for automotive cooling systems. We are already seeing aggressive cost-down tactics on the power modules between manufacturers; the next step will be ensuring cost-down through integration in the wider system.”

The increased efficiency of the drivetrain allows for a reduction in battery size, which accounts for a good percentage of the total cost of the EV. According to McLaren, for system designers, IPG5 packs easily thanks to state-of-the-art volumetric power density. The inverter can be offered without a case, which provides tremendous flexibility when packaging an off-the-shelf component into a custom system.

“A lot of work has already been done to reduce the cost of battery systems in EVs to get EVs to a point of price parity with conventional vehicles,” said Lambert. “Further reduction in battery prices will likely be due to manufacturing process improvement and increased volumes. However, there are other areas — notably, the drivetrain, of which the inverter is the key component — that have not seen the same cost-down initiatives, and there will be a mix of both technology innovation and production process innovation in the near future.”

The transition to electrical mobility and the gradual replacement of internal combustion engines are driving the race to make increasingly efficient EVs. For these applications, power electronics play an essential role, allowing for more efficient inverters, converters, powertrains, and on-board chargers.

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