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Vehicle Technologies Office: Materials for Hybrid and Electric Drive Systems

The Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) is working to lower the cost and increase the convenience of electric drive vehicles, which include hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles. These vehicles use advanced power electronics and electric motors that face barriers because their subcomponents have specific material limitations. Novel propulsion materials may be able to replace the current expensive materials in electric motors and drivetrain components, thus lowering the cost of electric-drive vehicles.

The current inverters, converters, and electric motors in these components face issues with:

  • Power electronic sub-components that lack sufficient tolerance for high temperatures
  • Electrical insulators that inhibit heat transfer from electrical devices, leading to premature component failure due to excessive heat
  • Mismatch in how much power electronics and supporting structures change in volume in response to changes in temperature
  • Permanent magnets' dependence on rare earth elements
  • Low power density and high cost of the induction motors that are not as dependent on permanent magnets

To overcome these challenges, VTO is carrying out a variety of projects with our partners. For example, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is developing epoxy molding compounds that conduct heat at higher rates than those that currently exist. They are developing software to model how the compounds change when exposed to elevated temperatures over time, which will help them maximize the compounds' effectiveness. Once developed, these compounds could allow for power electronic and electric motor components to use more efficient, smaller, and lighter cooling hardware.