Hofer Powertrain and ETH Zurich research GaN inverters

Powertrain expert Hofer Powertrain has launched a research project in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), focussing on developing a multi-stage gallium nitride inverter solution for electric mobility.

Image: Hofer Powertrain

Hofer Powertrain says it has “made significant strides in developing advanced multilevel power electronics utilising Gallium Nitride (GaN) chip technology over the last four years.” Compared to silicon-based systems, semiconductors based on gallium nitride are said to lead to increased efficiency and power density. According to Hofer, the 800V GaN inverter solution has shown remarkable performance in tests.

The joint project with ETH Zurich builds on this experience to realise an inverter solution that uses a new type of modulation method, operates at very high switching frequencies, and integrates several other new functions that the company has been working on in recent years.

In electric cars, inverters convert the direct current from the battery into alternating current for the electric motors. It always results in conversion losses – the lower these are, the less energy is lost, and more of the limited electricity on board can be used for driving. If the inverter is more efficient, it also produces less waste heat, which means that the cooling system can be designed to be smaller and lighter – which reduces the overall system’s energy consumption.

Innosuisse, the Swiss Agency for Innovation Promotion, subsidises the project. Although the exact amount of support is not disclosed, according to Hofer, the funding from Innosuisse “underscores the project’s significance and potential impact in the country and the DACH-region” – and basically makes the development of a new, optimised and highly efficient three-stage GaN inverter possible in the first place.

Professor Johann Biela from ETH Zurich, “a renowned expert in power electronics,” will supervise the project. Biela will be supported by Lukasz Roslaniec, division lead of power electronics at Hofer Powertrain, which is based in Nürtingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

“We eagerly anticipate the fruitful collaboration with ETH, renowned for its groundbreaking work in Power Electronics and Electric Drives,” says Roslaniec. “We are confident that our partnership will yield solutions that are not only technologically advanced and unparalleled but also financially accessible, thereby pushing the adoption of electric vehicles and environmental sustainability in the region and beyond.”



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