National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center


Picture of Several Automobiles in Traffic

Automotive High Temperature Sensor and Control Electronics

Silicon carbide high temperature electronic sensors and controls on an automobile engine will lead to better combustion monitoring and control, which would result in cleaner burning, more fuel efficient cars.

Internal combustion automobiles are increasingly relying on complex “under-the-hood” electronics and sensors rated at temperatures from -40 C to 125 C to meet the demands for increasing fuel efficency while decreasing pollutant emissions. Careful placement of silicon-based engine control electronics boxes within the engine compartment presently meets most of today’s automotive needs. However, integrated SiC sensors functioning directly in contact with higher temperature cylinder head and exhaust pipe areas would enable further gains in fuel combustion efficiency and reduced exhaust emissions. Furthermore, SiC-based engine control electronics rated at temperatures well above 125 C would eliminate present-day box placement design constraints and would reduce the number of wires and connectors in the engine, both of which should improve long-term reliability.

The NASA Glenn Chemical Species Gas Sensors team is developing SiC-based high temperature gas sensors for automotive applications.

High Power Electronics for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Silicon carbide will enable more practical electric vehicles and other tranportation systems by means of vastly improved SiC-based power electronic devices.

The capabilities of electric vehicles are largely determined by the capabilities of the electric circuits and motors that are responsible for converting electrical energy into drivetrain energy. Power semiconductor electronic devices are key circuit elements whose capabilities greatly influence motor-drive energy conversion efficiency. Presently, these devices are all implemented in conventional silicon-based semiconductor technology. Recent theorectical studies have shown that once silicon carbide semiconductor technology becomes sufficiently developed, SiC power devices will greatly outperform silicon power devices. In short, SiC power devices could operate at higher temperatures, standoff higher voltages, and switch faster using devices that have lower parasitic resistances and are physically much smaller than silicon power devices. These highly desireable device improvements would substantially trim the amount of undesirable power losses in electric motor drive power conversion applications, and public electric power distribution. In addition to electric automobiles, superior SiC power conversion electronics would enhance the performance of most any form of electric-motor transportation system, from mass transit trains and busses to commercial railroad locomotives to commercial and military surface ships and submarines.