Every hybrid or electric car has a power control unit (PCU) to govern electrical flows and it contains many semiconductors. The car’s overall efficiency is dependent on these small components, so Toyota has decided to work on them, launching a R&D program to make them better. It succeeded and the results are far more impressive than expected. Working with Denso, a long-time supplier, the engineers developed a new type of semiconductor, no longer made out of silicon, but with more sophisticated silicon carbide (SiC).
The new technology has enabled the semiconductor to shrink by 80% (our illustration), and it’s also much more efficient, with fewer power losses, and it’s /faster when reversing flows, which happens all the time inside a semiconductor, and in electric propulsion as well. Most often, the battery sends electricity to the electric motor, but it’s the other way around in regenerative mode. The improved characteristics have made the car more fuel-efficient, and measured under the official Japanese test (JC08), fuel consumption is down by 5%. That’s very impressive and there’s more to follow, as Toyota says further development and optimization could bring the reduction to an incredible 10%. Only with better semiconductors!
The only sad part is that this new technology still needs a few years of development before it reaches the dealership. Nobody should expect it before 2020, but if it increases the fuel economy of a Prius by 10%, it will be well worth the wait.