Ceramic specialist CeramTec has successfully tested the cooling capabilities of its new e-mobility-focused power semiconductor module.
Developed alongside Fraunhofer IISB, the firm’s latest ceramic innovation is designed to thermally regulate the drive inverters of electric-powered vehicles. During extensive pressure testing, CeramTec says that its module showed “impressive” levels of resistance, as well as proving to be an ideal semiconductor mounting point, effectively showcasing the potential of ceramics within contemporary e-drive concepts.
“The test measurements have proven that the SiC power module with high-performance aluminium nitride ceramic cooler can withstand high loads,” said Richard Boulter, Industrial President of CeramTec. “With low thermal resistance and high packing density, the power module for drive inverters becomes a high-performance cooler for e-mobility that can be modified for specific requirements.”
CeramTec’s technical expertise
With an annual revenue north of €550 million, and a 10,000-strong product offering, CeramTec is one of the world’s leading technical ceramic manufacturers. Due to ceramic’s unique mechanical properties, the firm’s products have found wide-ranging applications, and its clients hail from the automotive, electronic and medical sectors amongst others.
Although much of the company’s portfolio isn’t directly related to 3D printing, it did recently highlight the importance of product diversification in the release of its FY 2020 financials. With this in mind, CeramTec has made significant inroads into the additive manufacturing sector so far this year, via targeted additions to its software and material portfolio.
Back in February 2021, the firm launched its ‘ROCAR 3D’ printing powder, which is reported to have similar properties to silicon carbide, before releasing its ‘CeramCreator’ tool to help clients streamline their modelling workflow, and working with Fraunhofer IISB, it has now proven the potential of its ceramic offering within electric vehicle production as well.
Driving the future of e-mobility
When it comes to regulating the electrical power of so-called ‘e-drive’ powertrains, keeping their related electronics cool is essential, especially when they operate continuously in tight spaces. To make this possible, CeramTec has therefore worked with Fraunhofer IISB to develop and launch a unique ceramic-based thermal regulating solution, in the form of its new power module.
The unit itself was built as part of the companies’ joint ‘FuCera’ project, through which they set out to identify a cooler-based method of efficiently de-heating semiconductor chips. Ceramics, in particular, were used to create the device due to their inherent temperature, chemical and wear-resistance qualities, as well as their thermal conductivity.
Ultimately, to generate maximum power at an efficient weight, CeramTec developed a unified aluminium nitride (AlN) assembly, which it has now dubbed ‘chip-on-heatsink’ technology. By using both sides of the heatsink as carriers and coolers simultaneously, the firm has been able to produce a module with twice the thermal resistance of conventional heat management systems.
CermaTec’s novel approach has also enabled it to adapt the module’s internal geometry to incorporate a pin-fin structure, serving to increase its heat transfer surface while making it ultra-compact, thus the final product features dimensions of just 48 x 36 mm, with a thickness of 3.6 mm and weight of ten grams.
Most recently, to demonstrate the thermal performance of its module, the firm subjected it to thermal characterization evaluations using a PowerCycling test station. Results showed that the device featured a heat resistance of 0.15 K cm²/W from chip to cooling water, as well as shear strength of approximately 40 MPa, and CeramTec concluded that its module has “good sintering properties.”
Ceramic’s 3D printing potential
While it’s well-known that ceramics feature excellent thermal resistance qualities, their fragility has often prevented their industrial-scale deployment. To combat this, a significant amount of recent research has been conducted into producing more robust ceramic parts, yielding structures such as the HRL Laboratories’ Ceramic Matrix Composites.
Given ceramic’s antimicrobial properties, it’s also increasingly being used to create enhanced medical devices and implants. At the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, for instance, scientists have developed 3D printed ceramic-based patient-specific bone grafts, capable of being fused to organic tissues.
Researchers at Shenzhen University and Southwestern Institute of Physics have even managed to 3D print reactor fuel-emitting ceramic structures. Designed to replace the pebble beds seen in experimental cores, the cellular devices could ultimately help advance nuclear technology towards meeting the world’s energy needs.
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Featured image shows the inside of a concept electric vehicle. Image via CeramTec.