Push start versus kick start
Many of us remember how we first learned to ride a bicycle. Some of us remember it being somewhere between thrilling and mortifying. For me it was around my seventh birthday when my parents decided it was time to graduate to a “two-wheeler.” About two years earlier I stopped riding any type of cycle when my tricycle was no longer big enough for me, and my younger brother needed his own wheeled-vehicle. My parents were sure that I was going to quickly outgrow any “size-appropriate” bike, so they gave me a bike without the ability to accommodate any type of training wheels. My mother tried to show me how easy it was to ride. She looked very comfortable on my big bike, but that did not really help my confidence. I just couldn’t put any foot down without leaning over the bike!
After falling off the bike at least 100 times (maybe less) and achieving no more than about 10 feet of parentless assisted travel, I was ready to give up. I was certain I would not learn how to ride by just a series of “push starts,” so I pushed my bike to the local park to get away from the house. It was there that I decided to take out my frustrations on this two-wheeled death machine. I stood the bike up, then shoved it down over and over again. After about 20 or more times the front wheel fell off. I knew then for sure that there was something wrong with that bike and I began to imagine how I would have been hospitalized, if I had actually ridden it. But my dad took my bike to a shop where he welded the wheel attachment back on to the bike. I didn’t know how at the time, but within a couple of weeks I was riding the bike around the neighborhood carefree.
On May 9, 2013, the Obama Administration announced that it will launch competitions to create three new manufacturing innovation institutes. The government has committed $200 million dollars of funding and the money will be managed by five Federal agencies: Commerce, Defense, Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The three new institutes are:
- Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation
- Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing
- Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing
The most interesting institute, for me, is the “Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing.” This is really focused on wide bandgap (WBG) materials. The premise is that these new materials will allow power solutions for electric vehicles, renewable power, industrial motor, and defense electronics. These solutions are expected to be much more efficient while also being much smaller. Although creating reliable and cost-effective switching devices are critical, there also is a need to develop the magnetic materials that optimize the benefits from the WBG devices.
The U.S. government is already quite invested in WBG development, from projects in the national labs to funding university and private companies. For example, last year there was a workshop titled “Wide Bandgap Semiconductors for Clean Energy,” and summary report was issued from the workshop.1 The attendance was well balanced, about the same number of industry to government/labs/university. The big surprise was the low number of university attendees, only one out of 35. The workshop focused on three areas:
- Power electronics for electric vehicles and motor drives
- Power electronics for renewable grid integration
- Solid-state lighting
Each focus area was divided by impact areas such as performance, reliability, and cost.
Vehicle and WBG has drawn our government’s attention and has a more developed approach as far as gathering partners. Oak Ridge National Laboratories have pulled together 33 different collaborators or partners to look at WBG for electric traction drive. Their activities are summarized in a white paper titled, “Wide Band Gap Devices: Power the Next Generation Electric Traction Drives”.2 Collaborators/Partners are scattered across the country as shown in Figure 1. There is a good mix of universities and industry. A notable accomplishment from this partnership is a 55 kW automotive inverter design, with an efficiency improvement of 30% versus an all silicon design.
Figure 1. Map pin-pointing locations of Oak Ridge National Laboratories WBG Traction Drive Partners.
It is clear that our government is sponsoring and facilitating significant work in the WBG area with a focus on power electronics. However, like my bicycle story, I am not sure they are teaching us how to ride. With the focus on manufacturing innovation, they may be getting closer to helping us versus showing us. There is still considerable learning to be done. While initiatives and competitions may make us motivated – they also could add to the frustration. I appreciate their intentions but I believe we may be a little early for a competition and need to ride a little further on the precompetitive path.
What are your opinions on this subject and the role that government should play in push or kick starting our industry in a particular direction or methodology? What do you think might be a good alternative?
For more information about this and other power topics, visit TI’s Power House blog: www.ti.com/powerhouse-ca.
- “Wide Bandgap Semiconductors for Clean Energy Workshop: Summary Report,” US Dept. of Energy EERE, July 25, 2012
- “Wide Band Gap Devices: Power the Next Generation Electric Traction Drives,” Oak Ridge National Laboratories, 2012