Kettering University Professors Work to Lower the Cost of Hybrids
FLINT, Mich.--Kettering University researchers Dr. Juan Pimentel and Dr. Jim Gover, professors of Electrical and Computer Engineering, recently took receipt of a $75,000 grant from Mentor Graphics Inc. (www.mentor.com), a technology leader in electronic design automation that provides software and hardware solutions that enable electronics, semiconductor and automotive companies to design products faster and more cost efficiently. With this grant, the professors will develop computer models of a hybrid drive train that will allow them to perform a complete analysis of a hybrid vehicle design.
One project impact could be lower costs in purchasing a hybrid in the future. Currently, hybrids cost anywhere from $3,500 to $6,000 more than traditional cars. At the Detroit Auto Show, manufacturers displayed significantly more hybrid cars and trucks than at last year’s show, thus suggesting that consumers are more interested in hybrids than in previous years, due in large part to the increasing cost of gas.
Pimentel and Gover will focus on several areas of a hybrid drive train. One of the primary components of these drive trains are the power electronics comprised of a dc-dc converter and three-phase inverter that converts dc voltage to a three-phase, frequency-dependent voltage. This voltage then provides power to the electric motor that operates the wheels. One starting point for this project is to model the inverter. Gover will develop computer models of the power electronics system, while Pimentel will model the control electronics for the inverter. Both will use the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ standard modeling language called VHDL-AMS (very high speed hardware description language-analog and mixed signal). The primary tool to be used is SystemVision (tm), which is Mentor Graphics' implementation of VHDL-AMS. The hope is to calculate the heating rate generated in the inverter semiconductor switches to determine cooling requirements over the full range of drive train speeds as well as the performance sensitivity to electrical parameters.
If project predictions come to fruition, developmental costs of hybrids could come down if car makers pay careful attention to how they design, simulate and evaluate hybrid vehicles.