Future Electronics – Power-converter performance to make gains as wide bandgap technology comes of age


Over the past 20 years, the performance gains in AC-DC and DC-DC power supplies have nearly all resulted from a series of minor innovations to existing, proven topologies. Over time, the scale of change attributable to these small, incremental improvements has been impressive.

There is some evidence, however, that this gradual rate of improvement might not be sufficient in future to meet the requirements of a market which is subject to radical changes demanded by regulators and end-users.

For instance, the Level VI standards imposed by the US Department of Energy on external power supplies is likely to require the complete re-design of many AC-DC adapters; the EU CoC Tier 2 regulations described by CUI on pages 8-9 are even stricter. Likewise, medically approved power supplies will in future have to comply with the IEC 60601-1-2 4th edition standard enforcing more stringent limits on conducted or radiated emissions and ESD. Home appliances are also facing changes to their standards, such as the new EN 60335-1. AC-DC converter ICs such as the VIPer01 from STMicroelectronics, featured on page 24, will help power-supply manufacturers to conform to the new rules.

New, tougher regulations also call for greatly improved fundamental power-conversion technology, and this makes it likely that the latest wide bandgap semiconductor materials, such as Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN) will become ever more popular.

Wide bandgap components and modules enable converters to switch at higher frequencies and to operate at higher temperatures. As a result, the number, weight and size of supporting components such as passives, magnetics and heat-sinks can often be dramatically reduced, while allowing for greater conversion efficiency.

Digital power controllers are also helping to reduce size and component count. System designers can therefore expect to see the power density and efficiency of modules increase quite dramatically – a contrast to the incremental gains that the industry has enjoyed in previous years.

Another dramatic change in power-system design is to be found in the move from centralised to distributed power architectures. A distributed power architecture enables the intensive use of standard, low-cost, multiple-source and digitally-controlled DC-DC converters such as the devices offered by the AMP Alliance, and the TS3004x devices from Semtech featured on page 12.

Through its team of AC-DC and DC-DC power-system design specialists, Future Electronics is able to help customers in the EMEA region to meet the challenges of new regulations and end-user demand. I urge readers of FTM to take advantage of their support.