July 16, 2024

Advancing Digital Excellence

Pioneering Technological Innovation

Increasing electric vehicle range with new semiconductor technology

12 min read

Taylor Kuykendall:

Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of Energy Evolution. I’m your host, Taylor Kuykendall, senior reporter here at S&P Global Commodity Insights. Today, we’re talking with Dan Brdar, the CEO of Ideal Power. Ideal Power is developing and commercializing an innovative bi-directional semiconductor power switch. Well, what does that mean? Well, the company’s technology has a pretty broad range of applications. They go into electric vehicles, electric vehicle charging, renewable energy, energy storage, data centers, solid state circuit breakers, and industrial and military application.

The technology enhances energy efficiency, which means that it boosts the sustainability of the technologies that it’s found in. And Ideal’s tech is starting to catch on. The company is partnering with Stellantis, an automotive giant to develop a custom power module for use in Stellantis next-generation electric vehicle platforms. You’re going to learn about that and more, including Dan’s much more thorough explanation of the technology. We’re going to talk a little bit about increasing the range of electric vehicles and the challenges to building out the nation’s electric vehicle fleet, and including the need to reel back on the price of these electric vehicles so that they’re more accessible to a wider range of people. So without further ado, here’s my recent interview with Dan.

Dan, thank you so much for joining Energy Evolution today. We’re going to start out really basic before we dive into exactly what it is your company does with the semiconductors. Tell us, what is the power semiconductor? Where do we find them in our day-to-day life, and why should it matter to the listeners today?

Dan Brdar:

Well, most people don’t realize it, but you use dozens of power semiconductors every day. They’re used to control the motors in your refrigerator, your washer and dryer. If you have an electric vehicle, you use a lot of power semiconductors. They’re used in converting the energy from a solar panel into alternating current. And what power semiconductors do is they basically break energy down into little packets that you can change the form of the energy from, for example, direct current or alternating current like you have in your house or vice versa. They can change the voltage of it, and they’re really all about controlling the flow of energy and the form of it for a whole variety of applications.

Taylor Kuykendall:

And so now I think both of the technology you’re working on as a bidirectional semiconductor power, which you tell me the difference there, what advantages that confer and why your product is so much different from everything else that’s out there?

Dan Brdar:

Yeah, there’s really two things about it that are really unique. First, as you mentioned it is bidirectional. So you basically can use one device to control the flow of energy in either direction, and that’s becoming increasingly important because batteries are playing a much bigger role in our life than they used to. They obviously are at the core of electric vehicles. People are coupling batteries with their solar systems to solar panels to actually have good, reliable, dependable sources of power. And the other thing about our technology is it’s very low loss, so it means you get more useful energy for the application. So for example, in the case of a solar installation coupled with energy storage, you get more useful kilowatt-hours for your home or business. For an electric vehicle, it means more range out of the batteries on the vehicle. So it’s really all about making the devices simpler so that it’s bi-directional in one device instead of using multiple devices to do it. And doing that bi-directional power control much more efficiently so products can be smaller and more efficient.

Taylor Kuykendall:

Can you tell us me put some numbers around exactly how much we’re talking about there? How many extra charges are we getting off the wall or how many extra miles are we taking on our vehicle and by using this kind of bi-directional technology?

Dan Brdar:

A good example would be for an electric vehicle. If you were to use our technology instead of the conventional power semiconductor technology that’s out there based on some work that Toyota had done and kind of extrapolate that with our technology, you would increase the range of the vehicle by seven to 10%, which is pretty big impact because improving the range of vehicles is really challenging. So a seven to 10% impact is pretty significant in terms of helping to improve the range of the vehicles.

Taylor Kuykendall:

And to go back to the more basics here, range anxiety is a big problem for electric vehicle adoption. To what degree have you seen that conversation change, especially with the technology like this being developed? And going forward, when can we stop thinking about range anxieties electric vehicles a big problem for consumers?

Dan Brdar:

Right now, it is one of the two biggest impediments for adoption of electric vehicles. One is obviously cost because the cost of electric vehicles are certainly higher than the conventional combustion based vehicles. But range anxiety is also the other big issue because it’s going to take years for the charging infrastructure to get built out so that they are as commonplace as the gas stations that we’ve known for years and years to be out there, just everywhere you look.

The range anxiety issue is one that you need technology improvements in both the batteries and in the semiconductors because those are the two things that work together to really affect the range of the vehicle. So I think what a big focus of our technology and why we’re seeing these large automakers engage with it is we help address both of those issues. We help address the cost because we don’t need to use exotic materials to make our semiconductors and we can improve the range because our technology is more efficient.

Taylor Kuykendall:

You just mentioned that you’re working with some of these big automakers. Can you tell us a little bit more about where we can find Ideal Power’s technology? If anybody out there listening in their car might be kind of curious if they’re going to see it in theirs?

Dan Brdar:

Well, one of the ones that is actually publicly known is we have a program that we’re doing with Stellantis. If people are familiar with Stellantis, they are the corporate entity that owns Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, Maserati, a whole variety of brands, and they’re working with us on a funded program that is really going to be the basis of their next generation EV platform, really focused on driving costs down to bring the electric vehicles to a common marketplace where you don’t need to be buying $100,000 Teslas. You can buy vehicles that are in that 25 to $45,000 range that people expect in doing so in a way that helps improve the range. So we’re actually through the first two phases of our program with Stellantis, and we’re about to enter the third phase, which ultimately is focused on having a production ready module based on our technology for their next gen EV platform.

Taylor Kuykendall:

Yeah. Now, when you said the one that you can’t tell us about, my journalist here is parked up, says there must be ones we can’t know about. I completely understand we can’t drop any names probably, but can you kind of just give us a general idea of what you’re thinking in terms of future partnerships and just where you see Ideal Power going here in the near future?

Dan Brdar:

We really are focused on a couple of markets. The first markets that are actually going to drive revenue for us are industrial markets. They are things like renewable energy, solar installations, energy storage installations for utility and industrial markets, things like solid state circuit breakers for the utility and industrial marketplace. Because with all these distributed energy systems going in for solar and all the charging stations that are going in, there’s a lot of need for solid state circuit breakers to protect the grid from how those systems can operate and faults. So you’ll see our first revenues on these industrial applications, and then as we get through that design in process with the automotives, they will be the next round and really where the big volume is going to come. For us, we’ve already mentioned we’re working with Stellantis.

We’re actually working with multiple tier one suppliers to the automobile industry and another one of the top 10 global automakers that we haven’t been able to name yet. So we’ve got quite a few companies in quite a few different market segments that are evaluating our technology, and we’re working through that design in process with them so that they can start to adopt it into their new products.

Dan Testa:

The world of energy is changing every day, and you can stay on top of the transition to cleaner fuels by tuning into the Platts Future Energy podcast. In this series, our top experts at Commodity Insights bring you in-depth conversations on the technologies and trends that are helping energy and commodity markets decarbonize. As soon as this episode ends, head over to Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts and join us on Platts Future Energy.

Taylor Kuykendall:

We mentioned range anxiety as being one of the concerns earlier, but we also, I think whether it was later last year or maybe earlier this year, we kind of saw a slowdown, or at least in expectations of EV uptake. What do you think was behind that? Does it concern you or do you think we’re behind that kind of consumer hesitancy?

Dan Brdar:

Well, I think it’s really driven by a couple of things. One is the cost issue. I think when you have a new technology that comes out, you get the early adopters and people that are not terribly cost focused. They’re the ones that are buying the Tesla model Ss and so forth. But to get to the broad market, you’ve got to get to the point where the cost is competitive with choices that the customers have. So I think the cost issue has become forefront for all the automakers, and what we see with the automakers who we’re working with is I think they recognize that it’s a temporary slowdown, but the industry as a whole is making the move to electric vehicles. That is not going to change.

I think the other thing you saw was with inflation being what it is, car prices across the board, whether they’re electric vehicles or combustion vehicles, have gone up pretty significantly. That coupled with higher interest rates have made buying a car a lot more expensive. So I think it’s an industry-wide issue. And EVs, it’s exacerbated because they’re higher costs to begin with.

Taylor Kuykendall:

And maybe this is oversimplifying a little bit, but I know that at the same time, everybody wants lower EV costs so we can get wider EV deployment, and there also is this really strong effort to bring a lot more of the supply chain here to the US, which is usually not associated with lower costs. Right? I’m wondering how do you balance the push-pull there on those two maybe competing ideas?

Dan Brdar:

Well, I think particularly with COVID, I think we all saw how vulnerable our supply chains are to things like pandemics. And I think we realize now, and certainly in the government realizes that with things like the CHIPS Act, that there are some really key industries that are a major part of our future. Things like semiconductors that we need to have secure supply here in the US. So we’re seeing a lot of investment that’s going on in bringing some of that manufacturing capability back to the US, building state-of-the-art facilities where products can be made and where the innovation can be kept here so we can do a better job, I think, of protecting the intellectual property versus what we see in some parts of the world where intellectual property rules and regulations are not well respected.

Taylor Kuykendall:

We’ve mentioned the Inflation Reduction Act every once in while, a couple other big kind of the CHIPS Act, other big legislation. Someone I was talking to recently, I liked the way they put this. They said that basically the industry was handed the keys to fix the climate issue, and it was just time to go out there and do it. But I’m wondering, do you agree with that policy-wise? Does the industry have everything it needs, or is there other things that need to be adjusted to make the EV revolution happen even faster? Or especially for maybe even outside of EVs talking about renewables as well, is there other policies that you would like to see to make this energy transition happen faster?

Dan Brdar:

I think a lot of this is really up to a lot of the companies that are involved in these various market segments. When you get the government involved in your business and your industry, there may be pluses, but there’s always minuses that come with that as well. I think really with the focus now becoming so much on cost and range as really the key things that the industry has to go after, we’re seeing a lot of focus with the companies we’re working on really on them taking control of the business and getting products out there that really are ready for mass adoption in terms of cost and performance.

Taylor Kuykendall:

Last question I’ll ask you, and it’s two parts. I want to know what’s a short term next 12 months challenge for the entire industry that supplies these electronics that are important across so many different places in the energy transition? What’s the big challenge for the whole industry, and then what’s a marker of success for ideal power of getting through that challenge in the next 12 months?

Dan Brdar:

For us, we are really a lot less vulnerable to a lot of things that have been going on. One is because we are still early. We’re not in huge volumes. We’re really vulnerable to some of the disruptions. But I think the big challenge is getting some of the wafer fabrication capacity built. Building semiconductor wafer fabs is a very capital intensive process that takes many years to get them built. For example, here in Austin, Texas, where we are, Samsung is building a $14 billion wafer fab. Those things don’t happen quickly, so we’re vulnerable while that capacity is being brought back to the US and built and being brought into operation. So disruptions that may come along, we’ll still feel the effect of that as an industry if we have another pandemic.

For us, it’s really all about just working with these very large customers that are names that people would recognize, get them through the learning curve to learn about our technology, get them through the evaluation curve so they can actually test devices, make sure that they understand how they operate and get through the design and process with them so that they can incorporate our technology into their OEM products so they can bring out things like solid state circuit breakers that are smaller, more efficient, electric vehicles that have longer range and lower cost, EV charging stations that are lower cost and can charge more quickly because our technology can play a role in a lot of applications, but it’s getting the large companies that we’re working with through that learning curve and design cycle. So that’s really the biggest part of our focus here in the near term.

Taylor Kuykendall:

Dan, sounds great, and I wish you luck. Thank you. Hope to have you back on Energy Evolution again sometime soon.

Dan Brdar:

Thanks, Taylor, I appreciate it.

Taylor Kuykendall:

All right, listeners, thank you so much for listening to the latest episode of Energy Evolution. I want to give a special shout out to our incredible podcast team members. I am once again, Taylor Kuykendall, but other people behind this podcast include Dan Testa, Camilla Naschert, Camellia Moores, Christopher Coats, Karen Willembrecht, and our wonderful agency partner, The 199. To stay up to date with our upcoming episodes, be sure to subscribe to Energy Evolution on your favorite platform. If you have any ideas for future themes or guests, we’d love to hear from you. All you have to do is shoot us an email at [email protected]. And look, if you liked what you heard today, do consider sharing the podcast with others or leaving a review on your preferred podcast platform. We can’t wait to bring you more fascinating discussions in the future. Until next time, take care and stay tuned for more from Energy Evolution.

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