• Preface
  • Converter
  • Inverter
  • Regenerative braking

Electric motors in vehicles with fully electric or hybrid drive work with alternating current (AC). The energy for the electric motor does not come directly from the battery, as it only supplies direct voltage (DC). The DC voltage from the battery is fed into the reverse converted to an alternating voltage for the electric motor.

In addition, we find Converters that convert a low DC voltage into a higher voltage, or vice versa. The battery voltage can be “boost” up for the electric motor (650 volts), or lowered to charge the on-board battery (14 volts).

The following images are of a Tesla Model S: the interior of the inverter and an overview with the so-called “drive unit” where the inverter, transmission and electric motor are located in a common unit at the height of the rear wheel suspension.

To convert:
The image below shows a system overview including the boost converter and inverter of a Toyota Prius. The inverter is discussed in the next section. We delve into the boost converter in this section.

The battery voltage of 201,6 volts is converted in the boost converter into a DC voltage of 650 volts. A coil and two IGBTs (transistors) are used to generate an induction voltage. The reactor coil is shown in the boost converter between the capacitor (left) and the IGBTs T1 and T2. By continuously driving the transistors or not, an induction voltage is generated in the reactor coil, causing the capacitor to charge.
The diode ensures that the charging voltage continues to increase until the voltage reaches 650 volts.

The image in the paragraph “Boost converter” shows the overview with the boost converter, the inverter with twelve IGBTs and two electric motors (MG1 and MG2).

The bottom seven diagrams show the driving of the transistors and the direction of current to and from the stator coils. The boost converter and the IGBTs + MG2 are omitted for convenience. On the left of the diagram we see the HV battery; this is the high-voltage battery in which a voltage of about 200 volts is stored. To the right of the battery we see a capacitor. In addition, we see six high-power transistors. These are the IGBTs that drive the electric motor. The IGBTs are controlled by the control unit; it is indicated as “IGBT driver”. On the right we see the stator with three coils (U, V and W) colored with blue and red. In the middle of the stator is the rotor that is set in motion by magnetism, see the paragraph about the electric motor.

The upper transistors (T1, T3 and T5) switch the positive connections from the HV battery to the stator coils when the transistors are turned on by the control unit. The lower transistors (T2, T4 and T6) conduct the masses to the negative of the high voltage battery.

The gate terminals of the IGBTs currently being driven are shown in green. With a synchronous motor, the control unit “reads” the position of the rotor position sensor to determine which IGBT to control. The rotor position sensor is also known as a solve .

1. Driven IGBTs:

  • T1: plus (100% controlled);
  • T2: mass (50% controlled);
  • T6: ground (50% controlled).

2. Driven IGBTs:

  • T1: plus (50% controlled);
  • T3: plus (50% controlled);
  • T2: ground (100% controlled).

The rotor rotates due to the changed magnetic field.

3. Driven IGBTs:

  • T3: plus (100% controlled);
  • T2: mass (50% controlled);
  • T4: ground (50% controlled).

The rotor rotates due to the changed magnetic field.

4. Driven IGBTs:

  • T3: plus (50% controlled);
  • T5: plus (50% controlled);
  • T4: ground (100% controlled).

The rotor rotates due to the changed magnetic field.

5. Driven IGBTs:

  • T5: plus (100% controlled);
  • T4: mass (50% controlled);
  • T6: ground (50% controlled).

The rotor rotates due to the changed magnetic field.

6. Controlled IGBTs:

  • T1: plus (50% controlled);
  • T5: plus (50% controlled);
  • T6: ground (100% controlled).

The rotor rotates due to the changed magnetic field.

7. Controlled IGBTs:

  • T1: plus (100% controlled);
  • T2: mass (50% controlled);
  • T6: ground (50% controlled).

The rotor has now rotated 360 degrees (1 full rotation) from the situation in situation 1. The cycle with transistor circuits is repeated again.

The inverter converts the DC voltage from the HV battery into a 1-phase sinusoidal AC voltage. The three images below show:

  • Left: loading the coil;
  • Middle: unloading the coil;
  • Right: coil charge and discharge curve.

We achieve the charging and discharging of the coil by driving the base of the transistor with a square-wave voltage. When the coil is discharged, the magnetic field falls and the induced voltage creates a short-term induced current. The extinguishing diode causes the coil to discharge.

The 1-phase sine wave is obtained by changing the duty cycle at which the transistor becomes conductive. The following text is about the images below.

  • Left: at this frequency the coil cannot charge sufficiently and an average voltage is created;
  • Right: The duty cycle is adjusted by the IGBT controller. The charge and discharge time determine the level of current through the coil.

The IGBTs in the inverter are continuously switched on and off. The relationship between switching on and off takes place according to a PWM control. The wider the pulses (higher duty cycle), the greater the current that flows through the coil and thus the more powerful the electric motor. The average current is indicated by the black sine wave. The following figure shows three sinusoidal drive signals:

  • Blue: high drive. The duty cycle is high. The current becomes maximum.
  • Green: medium control. The duty-cycle percentage is lower than with the high control. The current is therefore lower. 
  • Red: low drive. The duty cycle percentage has again decreased. The current is halved compared to the maximum control.

The sine is positive for half a period and negative for the other half. The IGBTs in the DC-AC inverter are switched in such a way that a direct voltage (DC) is converted into an alternating voltage (AC). The direction of current through the stator coils is periodically reversed.

The frequency of the sine signal determines the speed of the electric motor:
by increasing the number of sine shapes per unit time, the rotor speed increases.

The following animation shows the inverter control. Below the inverter you can see the time course of three phases. The rotor rotates two full revolutions (360 degrees) in the animation. Each rotation is divided into six time units (1 to 6). Below that you see colored bars:

  • Dark blue: T1
  • Green: T2
  • Light blue: T3
  • Orange: T4
  • Pink: T5
  • Red: T6

We focus on the first half revolution of the course of time:

  • From 0 to 180 degrees, the rotor rotates half a revolution. During this period, IGBT T1 is controlled.
  • Between 0 and 60 degrees, in addition to T1, T5 and T6 were also active.
  • T1 switches the plus, T5 and T6 ground. Each transistor had its own duty cycle, varying between 50 and 100%.
  • At 60 degrees, T2 takes over from T5: the direction of current in the coil is reversed.
  • At that moment there is alternating voltage: because the current direction has changed, the current strength is negative.

To control the correct coils in the AC synchronous electric motor with the inverter, the inverter looks at the signal from the solve. The resolver registers the position of the rotor both when stationary and during rotation.

Regenerative braking:
When braking on the engine, the electric motor is used as a generator (dynamo). The kinetic energy of the vehicle is converted into electrical energy: the battery is charged.

The IGBTs are switched off during regenerative braking: the driver does not control them. The rectifier diodes between the source and drain of the IGBTs act as a rectifier to convert the AC voltage from the motor into DC voltage for the battery.

In addition to the option of electrical braking, fully electric and hybrid vehicles also have a conventional hydraulic braking system for braking with the brake pads and discs. The different techniques and control principles can be found on the page: braking of electric vehicles.

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