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Silicon carbide technology for more efficient railways


In Roll2Rail IK4-IKERLAN cooperates with CAF Power & Automation in the development of electric traction equipment for trains based on silicon carbide semiconductors


The railway industry, which is always looking for innovation and improvements in railway vehicles, is developing new solutions that allow it to reduce its energy consumption, improve its efficiency, and increase its reliability.

This context marks the development of the European project Roll2Rail, an initiative that is been coordinated by UNIFE and with the technical leadership of CAF. The project started in 2015, is part of the European initiative for the innovation in the railway sector, Shift2Rail. In the project IK4-IKERLAN technology centre cooperates with CAF Power & Automation in the development of electric traction equipment for trains based on silicon carbide semiconductors.

Silicon carbide is a material characterised by superior performance compared to that of conventional devices. These properties make it possible to reduce the volume and weight of current traction systems, which are vital parameters for improving the efficiency of rail transport.

“Silicon carbide-based semiconductors are devices with superior switching speed and greater thermal conductivity, which allow us to design more efficient converters, which work beyond the limits of conventional equipment based on silicon technology. In addition, this supports the use of other technologies that we master at IK4-IKERLAN, such as those based on new magnetic materials for the inductive elements of the converter”, explained the head of this project at Ikerlan, Alejandro Rujas.

The Roll2Rail project has received 16 million euro in funds, through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, and the private-public partnership Shift2Rail, counts on the participation of the Basque manufacturer CAF Power & Automation and other renowned companies in the railway sector.

Currently, the use of silicon carbide in the traction equipment developed in collaboration with CAF has allowed us to reduce the volume and weight of power cores by 30 % and that of the magnetic elements by 80 %. In addition, losses in the conversion system have been reduced by 50 %, a fact that has increased its efficiency in a remarkable way.

“We should be able to employ this technology not only in traction systems, but also in all applications in which system efficiency and volume play a crucial role, such as all transport systems, especially those intended for the latest generations of electric vehicles”, said Rujas.

The researcher adds that automotive manufacturer Toyota, a pioneer in research for improving vehicle efficiency for more than 15 years, is beginning to apply these innovations.

The contribution of IK4-IKERLAN

For many years, IK4-IKERLAN has been working in the field of next-generation semiconductors with silicon carbide and gallium nitride and develops competitive solutions for different industrial sectors.

With the aim of making progress in this area, the technology centre cooperates with renowned companies such as CAF or the manufacturer of lifting systems Orona, with which it works in the development of converters for more efficient lifts.

Furthermore, IK4-IKERLAN participates in the European project PowerBase, which seeks to generate gallium nitride converters for the photovoltaic sector.

“We believe that next-generation semiconductors are an emerging technology with great potential to boost the development of our industry, as it brings great advantages in electric conversion systems located in key sectors such as transport, industry, or energy distribution”, said the director of the centre’s Energy and Power Electronics unit, Unai Viscarret.

“Next-generation semiconductors can bring great benefits to these devices, improving efficiency and making them more competitive, particularly in embedded systems, in which size and weight are critical factors”, he concluded.


IK4-IKERLAN is a leading centre for technology transfer and for providing competitive value to companies due, among other things, to the expertise of its researchers. It offers comprehensive solutions by combining different fields of technology. This is possible owing to its high level of specialisation in three main areas: Electronics, information and communication technology (EICT), Energy and power electronics and Advanced manufacturing. It currently has a staff of approximately 290 people.

Project details

Name: Roll2Rail
Funding organisation: European Union
Total funding: 16 million euro
Programme: Shift2Rail Horizon 2020
Contract: 636032
Project Coordinatorr: UNIFE
Technical Leader: CAF

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