Overcoming high voltage protection and distribution challenges through the evolution of circuit protection technology

The world population is expected to reach 10 billion by mid-century and 15 billion by the end of this century. ~60% of the oil produced is consumed for transportation, while vehicle emissions rank fourth among the largest pollutants, it is expected that the motorization rate (number of cars per 1000 people) will multiply, so there is a imminent need to control both the use of oil and CO2 concentrations.

Can we believe that the first commercialized electric vehicle was in 1884, more than a century and three decades ago? Between 1900 and 1920 in the US, electric vehicles were in mainstream mobility. After that, electric vehicles came to a standstill with the resurgence of IC motors and mass production, electric vehicles remained unsuspecting until the 1970s. There was a short-lived revival between 1975 and 1998, with the resurgence occurring in 2007.

Since the revival, the development of hybrid and fully electric vehicles has progressed rapidly; however, it was not until 2010 that a car could have a full range of operation in fully electric mode with less than 3 km of autonomy. Since then, numerous innovations have been made in the electric vehicle and battery storage space. While the adaptation of electric vehicles is picking up; There are still numerous barriers to the adoption of electric vehicles in conventional transport.

I think adaptation is driven by 1) faster charging times to replenish batteries and 2) higher capacity batteries to increase range, plus political and socio-economic barriers (or) and more importantly safety of electric vehicles. Both will eliminate the anxiety among users to adopt electric vehicles and allow manufacturers to offer a wider variety of models on the market. For a pure electric vehicle, battery storage has a direct impact on range. The solution to overcome this would be high voltage batteries for fast charging using a lower current for the same power.

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High voltage systems (typically 525V and higher) have faster DC charging, lower current for the same power, smaller motors and drivers, higher vehicle performance, and lower vehicle weight. However, with high voltage systems, there are some drawbacks, components are less common, higher costs, creepage and clearance issues, and the risks of high voltage arcing and fault currents create safety concerns.

The simple architecture of the electric vehicle; As close to the battery as possible, a power distribution unit (PDU) manages the power that passes through the circuit. The power distribution system essentially consists of a fuse that melts in the event of an overload, or a short circuit protects the circuit. The contactors turn power on and off at rated current. In today’s electric vehicles, the number one challenge is the coordination between fuse and contactors; this can lead to dramatic situations: fuses are like a constant flow of current…they age when extreme fluctuation of currents is normal for electric vehicles (i.e. starting, accelerating, braking) and they can start to deteriorate and can not function as intended, and contractors may have a tendency to arc during a short circuit and high voltage spikes during changeovers, the fuse may react ten times slower. Coordination between these two is a challenge. Both aging of the fuse and poor coordination of the fuse and contactors can cause a risk of fire or explosion inside the vehicle.

The future is electric mobility, and it is not far from reaching the masses; I believe that with the advent of innovations in power electronics, battery technology, motors, systems safety, and infrastructure development, electric vehicles will take a huge leap forward in the not-too-distant future.


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