Toyota has developed a new form of semiconductor that the Japanese brand hopes will improve the fuel efficiency of its hybrids and electric vehicles by as much as 10 per cent.
This may seem an ambitious target at this stage, given current prototypes are registering an improvement of only half that amount, but it’s still early days, with the technology expected to trial on public roads before the year is out.
While they don’t sound all that exciting, semiconductors actually play an essential role in hybrids and EVs. Located within the power control unit (PCU), they govern the flow of electricity from battery to motor, as well as helping store the power generated under braking.
However, as well as being crucial to how the PCUs work, they currently account for 20 per cent of all the energy lost in hybrid vehicles.
To try and tackle this problem, Toyota’s new semiconductor – developed in-house with help from Denso – is made from a silicon carbide compound instead of the traditional silicon. This limits energy losses and allows for an 80 per cent reduction in power control unit size.
Whether it works as predicted remains to be seen, but an early glimpse of the technology is currently available at the 2014 Automotive Engineering Exposition in Yokohama.