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Freescale, Fuji Join Forces for Green Car Tech

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Freescale Semiconductor and Fuji Electric Systems are forming a new partnership focused on hybrid and electric vehicle technology. The two companies announced plans on Monday to collaborate on a type of semiconductor used for powertrains for hybrid and electric cars, as well as other products for green cars down the road.

Specifically, Freescale plans to begin marketing Fuji’s insulated-gate bipolar transistor, or IGBT, devices to its automotive customers. These devices convert alternating current (AC) control signals to the current needed to turn the motor. Or, as Fuji explains in this 2007 issue of the corporate technical journal, Fuji Electric Review, IGBT modules in hybrids are used to “convert the power generated by the engine into electrical energy, to charge and discharge a battery, and to drive the motor.”

Found in applications ranging from solar and wind power systems to robots, IGBTs are known for fast switching and high efficiency. This combination makes them “ideal,” Freescale says, for use in electric vehicle motors ranging from 20KW to 120KW. The company adds that with a more efficient IGBT, a hybrid or electric car will lose less power as wasted heat.

In a mid-range vehicle sold in the U.S., electronics make up 20-30 percent of the car’s cost, enabling stability control, navigation, transmission and engine management and many systems in between, Freescale Global Automotive Marketing Manager Steve Nelson said in an April 2010 interview for GigaOM Pro (subscription required). Hybrid vehicles, with their regenerative braking and start-stop systems designed to reduce fuel consumption, “have substantially higher semiconductor content compared to regular passenger cars,” according to the research firm Frost & Sullivan. The Volt, a plug-in hybrid car, uses 10 million lines of software code and 100 electronic controllers, and each Volt on the road has its own IP address.

All-electric vehicles will have even higher semiconductor content. As we explained over on GigaOM Pro last spring, electric cars rely on computerized systems to extend their range and manage complex battery packs made up of hundreds of lithium-ion cells, each of which needs monitoring. Thermal controls and other management systems help ensure efficient charging and longer life.

Fuji has made it a goal to expand use of the company’s IGBTs in hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as renewable energy, reaching beyond the industrial sector that currently makes up the bulk of its IGBT business. According to Freescale, IGBTs make up the largest segment of the market for electric vehicle power systems. They’re also the final piece of the puzzle for the Austin, Texas-based chipmaker’s EV system portfolio. The company says this latest deal with Fuji means it can now “offer all of the major electronic components of EV systems,” including microcontrollers, analog gate drivers, battery monitoring integrated circuits, power IGBTs, modeling and simulation tools, and software tools for motor control development.

To learn more about connected and electric cars come check out Green:Net on April 21 in San Francisco, and hear from speakers from GM’s Onstar (s gm), Ford (s f), Tesla Motors (s TSLA), Coda Automotive, and startups like Virtual Vehicle (one of our 10 Big Ideas companies).

Image courtesy of Yutaka Tsutano.