Applications of Power Electronics and Microelectronics
Whether purely electrically powered, or in the hybrid version: every electric drive motor in an automotive vehicle needs power electronics for control. The challenge is how to build these components, so that they are small and light and keep power loss to a minimum. The industry needs engineers to do this, both now and in the future.
Drive Technology in Industry
Whilst in the past the main aim of the drive technology industry was to achieve ever higher performance at ever lower cost, nowadays energy saving plays an even greater role. Given that the Earth has only finite reserves of fossil fuels; the concern now is to design the drives of electrical machines in such a way that their energy consumption is as low as possible. This must be done without additional costs for the power electronics, an exciting challenge for engineers!
High Speed Trains
The French TGV holds the world record with a speed exceeding 570 km/h. The German ICE has a top speed of 407 km/h. The Transrapid in Shanghai reaches speeds as high as 501 km/h. In an ICE 3, four motors of 500 kW each drive a carriage; half a train has 16 of these motors. It is power electronics, fed by a15 kV AC network, that ensures that the trains run smoothly.
High-Voltage Direct Current Transmission
If you want to transmit electrical energy over long distances (more than 750 km), it is more effective to employ transmission systems which use direct current (High Voltage Direct Current, HVDC). This is because the power loss is lower (than with AC (Alternating Current)). However, the power electronics used in the production of high voltage is significantly more complex than a conventional transformer. Building cheap, low-loss energy converters is a challenge for power electronics engineers. Only if they succeed, will the delivery of solar power from Africa become a realistic option for solving Europe's energy supply problem.
Wind Power and Photovoltaic
In today's wind turbines the alternating current (AC) of the generator is first rectified and then converted by inverters to the mains voltage and frequency. For photovoltaic systems, the direct current (DC) is created directly, but again, the inverter is an important component of the overall system. The rectifier and inverter function by means of power electronic components. Here, power electronic engineers are working towards the goals of high reliability and low power dissipation.
Microelectronics in Medicine
The application of microelectronics in medicine has had impressive successes in recent years. There has been considerable progress, not only in terms of the medical equipment available to doctors, but also in the implantation of electronic devices into a patient's body. The heart pacemaker is a prominent example of this. Currently, the implantation of image sensors into the retinas of blind people is being explored with the aim of giving them back their sight.
Accident Prevention through Driver Assistance Systems
The annual number of car accidents is fortunately decreasing. One major contributory factor in this is the electronic systems that improve cars’ road handling and partially correct human error. One exceptional engineering achievement can be seen in electronic emergency braking systems that activate the brakes in cases of proven inattention of the driver and so prevent rear-end collisions.
Electronic Communication Systems
Modern life is unimaginable without mobile phones and the internet. In many cases, mobile phones have become a life saver, because emergency services could quickly be led to the scene of the emergency. The internet, providing knowledge and information on a global scale, may one day form the basis for peaceful coexistence between nations. The only reason why these two communication systems are becoming available to a growing proportion of humanity is because electronic engineers are continuously reducing the cost of these systems.