What is a DC-To-DC converter and how does it work? Explained!
What is a DC-To-DC converter?
DC-to-DC converters store energy so it can be converted from direct current (DC) at one voltage to another. They are necessary for systems of different voltages in a car.
In the classic 12V electrical architecture that dominated the automotive industry starting in the 1950s, the control circuit functioned as a DC-to-DC converter. The decades saw the increasing complexity of vehicle electrical/electronic architectures with such features as cruise control in the 1950s, and emission control measures introduced in the ’70s. These were followed by innovations like electrical centers appearing in cars manufactured during the ’90s.
The popularity of these devices grew immensely after the advent of DC-to-DC converters, which step down power from a 12V battery to lower-voltage electrical systems such as the instrument panel, entertainment system, LED lighting, and sensors (which can require as little as 3.3V).
Even in today’s hybrid and electric cars, these low-voltage DC-to-DC converters are an important part of the control circuitry. They’re still necessary for all vehicles, whether they run on gasoline or batteries (BEVs).
BEVs require a higher voltage level than what is typically seen, so a more reliable DC-to-DC converter must be used. With voltages exceeding 60V, they are considered high voltage; BEV batteries usually fall in the 400V to 800V range.
Different electronic components in the vehicle need various voltages: for example, an air conditioning unit needs 48V while lights may only need 12 V . The battery’s voltage might also have to be changed depending on if it’s running at 400 V and is connected to a charging station with 800 V.
With the addition of features like active safety, Connectivity, and infotainment that are software-enabled, the low voltage architecture has become more complex.
BEVs(Battery electric vehicles) have to provide enough power not just to drive the car but also to operate all low-voltage devices which make up a software-defined vehicle while maintaining reliability .this is needed to meet functional safety demands associated with autonomous driving as well as advanced driver assistance systems.
DC-to-DC converters for high-voltage applications
DC-to-DC converters with higher power density, as measured in kilowatts of power per unit of volume, are becoming more popular among electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers who want to minimize size and weight wherever possible to extend the vehicles’ range. Because EV designers are attempting to decrease size and weight wherever possible to increase the cars’ range, they’re turning to DC-to-DC converters with a greater power density, which is defined as the amount of energy converted per unit volume.
To reduce 400V or 800V down to 12V, a DC-to-DC converter is needed that has 700W to 4kW worth of power–or up to 12kW for something like a commercial vehicle.
The goal is to minimize space while at the same time optimizing for safety and efficiency. While some carmakers have kept a 12V battery in addition to the main 400V or 800V battery, improved designs are combining the bigger battery with a more sophisticated DC-to-DC converter, eliminating the weight, cost, and maintenance of a separate 12V battery.
The software that runs the DC-to-DC converter is key to ensuring that conversion remains efficient. Furthermore, hardware and software design are informed by knowledge of the entire vehicle architecture. High voltage components for vehicles are still relatively new territory for the industry. Today’s software-defined vehicles must be able to perform expected functions efficiently, like over-the-air updates, cybersecurity, autonomous driving, advanced safety, and state-of-the-art user experiences.