Japan gives electric cars a boost with power chip development

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Japan will work alongside a host of big names in the manufacturing industry to develop a power chip which will allow a 10 percent increase in the distance that an electric car can travel, as well as reducing weight.

The ministry will work alongside Toyota Motor, Mitsubishi Electric and Nippon Steel to develop a prototype by 2014 ahead of the target for bringing the car to market in 2018, according to sources close to Nikkei (subscription needed).

It is hoped that the joint public and private scheme will boost the competitiveness of the Japanese auto industry by upgrading its environmental technology.

It is planning, for starts, a power chip – used to deliver power at uniform speeds – by first developing a silicon carbide material as a chip substrate.

Nippon Steel and Denso will develop the chip, which Toshiba, Fuji Electric Holdings and Mitsubishi Electric will use to make inverters before installing them in electric cars manufactured by Toyota, Honda, Nissan and others.  It’s believed that mid range models of the cars could retail at around $35,000-40,000.

By developing an inverter equipped with a power chip it is claimed that power loss could be reduced by two-thirds which would mean the car could travel further.  The technology would also be highly resistant to both heat and high voltage meaning that the usual water-cooling method would not be necessary, as a small fan could be used instead, helping to reduce weight.

It is thought that the reason so many high profile firms are involved is that the price for development would be too risky for just one company to take on. With this in mind the Ministry will provide assistance to the tune of $42.6 million to develop the chip in its fiscal 2011 budget request, having already approved $31 million in 2010.