More efficient, smaller and lighter power converters to cut CO2 emissions
IK4-IKERLAN is developing state-of-the-art power converters
- These are converters based on silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors and have features that are far superior compared with silicon ones
- The R&D centre is developing these converters together with leading companies in the energy, mobility and capital goods sectors
New technologies are now making it possible to develop power converters that are more efficient, smaller and lighter than conventional ones. These three characteristics provide the products with greater competitiveness and are of great importance in the race for energy efficiency, electrification of transport and the incorporation of renewables. IK4-IKERLAN is a leader in the commitment to the development of converters with these features based on two new technologies set to revolutionise this sphere: silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors.
The need to cut CO2 emissions is driving forward research in a key area, that of power converters, whose function is to adapt and transform electrical power for a specific purpose.
The advances in this field are fundamental in the energy, mobility, industry, services, and consumer sectors, for example. IK4-IKERLAN is collaborating with leading companies in the development of cutting-edge applications based on this new generation of semiconductors.
Power converters are used to adapt and transform electrical energy for a range of purposes, such as powering equipment, transforming direct current into alternating current or vice versa, storing energy, controlling the functioning and speed of engines and electric generators, etc.
The main aim being sought when designing these devices is that they should handle energy efficiently. The latest converters based on silicon carbide and gallium nitride semiconductors being developed by IK4-IKERLAN offer a significant improvement on the features of conventional ones (based on silicon conductors), since they achieve performances of 99% (by halving the losses in the form of heat generated by the converters) and reductions in weight and volume in excess of 50%.
These advantages are even more important in those applications in which the reduction in weight and volume are critical factors, as in those destined for the transport or aviation sectors.
Basing itself on new semiconductor technologies, IK4-IKERLAN is envisaging a significant, multisectoral impact thanks to the improvement in features in terms of efficiency, weight and volume.
IK4-IKERLAN is developing converters with an impact on various sectors. For the railway sector it is producing converters for traction, storage and contactless power chargers. For the energy sector, converters for incorporating renewables and for managing storage systems. In the industrial sector, inverters for controlling traction engines.
In the applications with respect to the railway, their reduced weight and size are significant competitive advantages because trainborne applications are involved here.
For the energy, capital goods, industrial application and consumer sectors, the most important competitive advantages will be the improvement in efficiency which is of great importance in all of them as it enables energy consumption to be reduced.
In the case of the automotive sector, the impact of this new generation of converters is going to be linked to the growing deployment of electrically-powered vehicles: converters for charging stations, for traction in hybrid and electrical vehicles, converters for generators, and for managing storage systems, so that electrical vehicles with increased autonomy can be produced.
The European projects
IK4-IKERLAN is contributing its capabilities in the area of power converters based on silicon carbide and gallium nitride to two European projects that have recently been approved. They are the Roll2Rail and Powerbase projects.
In the Roll2Rail project, led by the European Rail Manufacturing Industry body (UNIFE), technologies for future trains will be explored and developed. The continent’s main manufacturers are participating in this project, which will have a budget of 16 million euros; train capacity is expected to be increased by 15% and punctuality by 15%, energy consumption is expected to be cut by 30% and manufacturing costs by 40%. In this project IK4-IKERLAN will be conducting research in collaboration with CAF, which is also a member of the consortium.
The Powerbase project, led by the company Infineon, seeks to strengthen the positioning of Europe in the development of power semiconductors by demonstrating and quantifying the improvements offered by gallium nitride converters in a range of applications: LED lighting, photovoltaics, telecommunications, battery chargers or compact power supply units for automation systems, for example. Within the framework of this project, IK4-IKERLAN is leading the work package devoted to developing compact converters based on gallium nitride.
“They will help companies to compete”
“Our knowledge and our commitment to silicon carbide and gallium nitride semiconductor technologies are enabling us to develop more efficient, more competitive converters that will allow us to have better products and will help the companies we collaborate with to compete in the race for energy efficiency, the electrification of transport and the incorporation of renewables,” explained Unai Viscarret, who is responsible for this area at IK4-IKERLAN.
"The capacity of IK4-IKERLAN in this area is endorsed by our trajectory of collaboration with the leading companies in the country and our participation in the Roll2rail and Powerbase European projects is further recognition in this respect,” he added.
IK4-IKERLAN is a leading centre in technology transfer and in the contribution of competitive value to companies, thanks to its capacity to offer comprehensive solutions by combining various technological domains. This is possible due to its high degree of expertise in six major areas: embedded systems, power electronics, microtechnologies, energy efficiency and storage, structural dependability and advanced manufacturing and the fact that it has a significant network of national and international collaboration that complements its offer so that it can provide its customers with the best solution.