From smartphones and electric vehicles (EVs) to EV charging stations and telecom centers, power management has increasingly become a key factor in enabling the electronics we use every day. Until recent years, high-efficiency power management often took a back seat to other design considerations. But that has changed. Over the last five to 10 years, considerations such as extending battery life while reducing application size, making systems safer, and meeting consumer expectations for more reliable and lower-cost systems that charge faster have intensified the focus on solving key power-design challenges.
Figure 1 Improvements in process, packaging and circuit design are giving developers the tools to make power electronics more efficient. Source: Texas Instruments
Improvements in new process, packaging and circuit-design technologies are providing engineers with the highest levels of efficiencies for the systems they design. As the world consumes more and more power, we all need to strive to make the energy we produce go further and last longer. Today, generational improvements in five key areas are helping push power further.
- Power density bolsters performance in smaller spaces
Electronic systems demand increases in functionality that often outpace the amount of energy available. This requires improving the amount of power processed in a given form factor—or power density—which is enabled by higher efficiency and switching frequencies. Power designers are looking to squeeze more power into smaller spaces to differentiate their products, increase efficiency, and improve thermal performance.
In the case of gallium nitride (GaN), power system designers have shown significant interest in applications such as AC/DC chargers and server power supplies, where higher density and efficiency add significant value. Of course, power density is critical in virtually all applications, including solar power and electric vehicles. Consumers want solutions that are smaller and consume less power.
- Low EMI lowers system costs
Reducing electromagnetic interference (EMI)—an undesirable byproduct of switching currents and voltages—is increasingly important for electronic systems, especially in automotive and industrial applications. Designing for low EMI can reduce passive filter size, cost, design time, and complexity. Choosing the right power semiconductors enable engineers to shrink the size of the power-supply solution and lower its EMI. With TI’s LM25149-Q1 and LM25149, for example, engineers can cut the area of the external EMI filter in half, lower the conducted EMI of the power design, and achieve a combination of reduced filter size and low EMI.
Figure 2 Lowering EMI enables power system designers to quickly conform to EMI standards. Source: Texas Instruments
- Low quiescent current extends battery and shelf life
In battery-operated systems, the demand for chips that manage low quiescent current (low IQ)—the current consumed when a device is on but is in standby mode—is triggered by the pursuit of achieving higher performance for longer periods of time. Low IQ is important to multiple applications, including smoke detectors, health monitors and smart watches. These applications spend much of their time in sleep mode—waiting to wake up when they’re needed.
One of the fastest growing low quiescent current end-equipment markets is building automation. Today, battery-operated and energy-harvested systems spend more than 99% of their time in standby mode. This makes careful optimization of the quiescent current in power electronics especially critical. Circuit and process advancements have enabled chipmakers to meet the needs of design engineers who are looking for more functionality while maintaining battery life.
- Low noise and precision enhance signal integrity
Noise is an electrical biproduct generated by all components and caused by multiple sources. At TI, our low-noise portfolio strives to minimize both the self-generated noise of our ICs and filtering noise from upstream sources. Unmitigated, this noise can negatively impact the performance of sensitive applications such as medical equipment and communications infrastructure. Low noise is especially critical in power supplies feeding precision circuits such as analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), analog-front-ends, and clocks for ICs.
- Isolation boosts safety
Isolation matters in a world where humans and machines interact continuously. Isolation—a barrier that provides protection while enabling the exchange of signals and/or power—is critical for the reliable and safe operation of high-voltage systems. For example, an isolated DC/DC bias-supply module like TI’s UCC14240-Q1 can be used in an EV traction inverter to power gate drivers while still maintaining isolation between the high-voltage domain and the car chassis. Isolation technologies can improve system reliability, reduce form factors, and simplify EMI compliance for end-products.
Jeffrey Morroni is director of power management at Kilby Labs, a corporate R&D group at Texas Instruments.