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Toyota Develops "diamond-like" Semiconductor To Improve Hybrid Mileage

By Expert Author: Seth Walker

One of the many reasons consumers purchase Toyota hybrids is for their enhanced mileage. And now the company has raised the bar by developing a power semiconductor made of one of the hardest substances on Earth after the diamond, carbide. The semiconductor is in the form of a wafer, and Toyota believes it will increase the fuel efficiency of their hybrid models by as much as 10%. Early testing has already shown an increase in efficiency of 5%. Carbide, which is used in body armor among other things, is little affected by heat. Current semiconductors are comprised of silicon, which has issues with both heat and electricity. As a result, the high voltage hybrids can experience electrical loss. But the new silicon carbide semiconductor (called SiC) will reduce electrical loss by as much as 1/10. It's expected see a tenfold increase in drive frequency as well. This new technology will also allow the size of current power control units to be reduced by as much as 80%, and reduce the weight of the unit as well. In addition to current hybrids, such as the Prius, these new semiconductors may make it possible to outfit other types of vehicles with hybrid systems. Vehicles are already using these new semiconductors to power some vehicle headlights and provide dashboard lighting, with great success. Largely due to materials access, this type of semiconductor is more expensive to produce than the current silicon one. However, it is anticipated that increased fuel savings will mitigate any anticipated manufacturing costs, as well the mass production of this technology.

A prototype was showcased at the International 2014 Automotive Engineering Exposition in Yokohama, Japan. To demonstrate the difference in sizes, the company displayed its current semiconductor, and its prototype (about the size of a shoebox) side by side. Reviewers greeted the unveiling of the prototype with enthusiasm, with the semiconductor quickly being dubbed "one of the 5 coolest innovations at the exposition". The Japanese government was so impressed by Toyota's results that it encouraged other Japanese car companies to begin their own efforts to produce SiC technology in their own vehicles.

Toyota is scheduled to begin test driving these vehicles on public streets in Japan by 2015. A corporate press release indicated that the company plans to start marketing Toyota hybrids with the new power technology by 2020. In addition to the semiconductors, the company is currently working on increasing vehicle fuel efficiency by working on improvements to batteries and brakes.

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