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Vehicle Power Electronics

Photo of two men looking at a computer screen containing a colorful rectangular image with blue cool zones and orange and red warmer zones.

Researchers study the results of a computer simulation of coolant flow to optimize the rate of heat transfer in devices.
Credit: Warren Gretz

When you drive a car, use a computer, cook with a microwave oven, or talk on any type of telephone, you are using power electronics. They are also important elements of advanced energy-efficient vehicles. Both hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles rely on power electronics to help control the nature and the timing of the electric power sent to motors and other electrical equipment.

Energy storage systems such as batteries are direct-current (DC) devices, but the electric motors used in hybrid electric vehicles are alternating-current (AC) devices. In order to change the power between DC and AC, we use a device known as an inverter. Inverters are not 100% efficient, so they generate a significant amount of heat in a very small space. This heat must be removed or the device will fail and have to be replaced.

NREL's researchers are investigating several advanced techniques to remove the heat. Our power electronics team investigates the thermal management of motor controllers, inverters, and other power electronics using advanced cooling technologies such as spray cooling and jet impingement.

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