New cars from 2020: Further CO2 cutback How’s that going to work?

Jürgen Weyer, NXP Semiconductors: »We’re looking at the entire eco-balance of a vehicle. And when I just think of where the lithium for the battery comes from, things start getting difficult.«

By 2020 carbon dioxide emissions are to be reduced to an average 95 g/km. In February this year, however, a study by the Center of Automotive Management (CAM) of the Bergisch Gladbach School of Economics showed development in the reverse direction. CO2 emissions are increasing.

The study says that for the first time CO2 emissions of newly registered cars in Germany have risen again. On the most important EU market emissions for 2017 increased by 0.4 percent to 127.9 g/km (2015: 127.4 g/km). Achieving a 95 g CO2/km EU climatic goal of the carmakers thus recedes.

Can the semiconductor industry do anything to help get anywhere near this figure? Dr Ulrich Giese, senior director innovation and trends/automotive solutions group at Renesas Electronics, says that in the first place he sees the carbon dioxide limits not as a matter of semiconductors but as a political topic.

Nevertheless, semiconductors can help to cut CO2 emissions, as shown by many examples from the past, and new approaches too. Philippe Prats, director of marketing automotive digital products EMEA at STMicroelectronics, states a case: “There are many new concepts that can be designed in fast and cost-efficiently. One example is the mild-hybrid.”

And this concept is being accepted, because he says many OEMs are investing in 48-V technology. On the one hand it enables recuperation, plus consumers who need a lot of power, like compressor and e-boosting, can go partly electric. Prats further: “VW, for example, has already announced its intention to use the technology, PSA too. Why? Because they can thus reduce 10 to 15 percent of CO2 emissions.”

48 V has another advantage, as we hear from Jürgen Weyer, vice-president automotive sales & marketing EMEA of NXP Semiconductors: “The question is always: how do I get where I’m going with the least effort or expense. And that’s currently by 48-volt technology, because on the one hand I can have a smaller internal combustion engine, and on the other hand give it the power it sometimes needs by an e-booster.”

But that poses the question of whether buyers are at all interested in a vehicle like this. A smaller internal combustion engine does not sound much like driving enjoyment. However, Weyer is convinced that it will work. There are already three-cylinder engines, “and I expect industry to get down to two cylinders”, says Weyer. The pleasure of driving is still there.

And Prat sees another very clear-cut argument in favor of mild hybrid technology: “In the automobile industry 2020 is just around the corner. So you have to find solutions that can be implemented at short notice. And that’s 48-volt technology.” Then there is the fact that, to start, use of 48-V technology was limited, like for servo steering. “Today it’s being used for more applications, like e-boosting, turbocharger — the technology is spreading “, continues Prats.

Weyer has some reservations, that not all regions will go for the technology. He is convinced that the technology will launch in China in a big way, “because China has a big infrastructural problem when it comes to charging electric vehicles”, he resumes. But he is not sure whether the technology is likely to be accepted in the USA. Given that 48-V technology has already been around for a few years, Hans Adlkofer, vice-president in the automotive systems group of Infineon Technologies, sees a quite different question: “What more can we do to make cars cleaner?”

There are a number of options. For example in the form of higher efficiency so that in each conversion of power less electrical energy is lost as heat. Here Prats points to the use of silicon carbide. SiC MOSFETs cause fewer switching losses at a high switching frequency, so that less heat is generated and less cooling is needed, thus saving weight and so on. Says Prats, “it’s a chain reaction.”

Heinz-Peter Beckemeyer, director of automotive systems group at Texas Instruments, sees potential for taking the edge off the CO2 problem by semiconductors. TI is helping to implement 48 V faster by a bidirectional DC/DC converter. “Such products weren’t at all developed earlier, so we’re supporting OEMs in getting systems into the vehicle faster.”

And Uwe Bröckelmann, technical director EMEA of Analog Devices, likewise emphasizes: “Of course the semiconductor industry can make a contribution to lower CO2 emissions. By electrification. The internal combustion engine will go electric, and we’re helping do it. We started with start-stop, that was only possible with semiconductors, it was only a matter of reducing CO2.” And the developments continued. Bröckelmann points to Mazda and its Skyactiv engine, combining charge compression with ignition, “that’s very high control technology. Semiconductors make it possible to scale a gasoline engine very close to the efficiency of a diesel engine”, continues Bröckelmann.

Raphael Hrobarsch too, sales manager automotive Europe and sales manager CEE of Diodes, can indicate what the semiconductor industry is doing to reduce CO2. Once you had 17 or 18 components seated around the LED drivers, today there are two or three. “That reduces weight and helps save gas.” Things have also been happening in bus systems. PCIe generation 4 is twice as fast as PCIe 3, but needs two leads less to do the job. Hrobarsch: “Those may only be trifles, but they add up.”