Digital gate drive unlocks the full potential of silicon carbides in high-voltage power electronics – embedded computing design

By Pradeep Kulkarni

Product Marketing Manager, Silicon Carbide Business Unit

Microchip technology

October 23, 2023


SiC technology takes power electronics to new levels of efficiency and power density and solves key challenges as today’s global green initiatives transform entire industries including automotive, industrial, aerospace and defense.

The full potential of these SiC solutions will be revealed when it becomes possible to digitally configure the switching of the SiC power device based on different requirements from power levels and switching frequencies to load conditions. This is important because the faster switching speed of SiC can come with the challenges of faster voltage and current transients during switching. These secondary effects can cause voltage spikes, ringing, and electromagnetic interference (EMI), so they require careful circuit design, filtering, and other steps necessary to prevent device failures, unwanted noise, and other issues.

Traditional MOSFET analog gate drivers are a clumsy way to do this. They were designed to drive much slower silicon gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), which exhibit much lower levels of these secondary effects. A much better approach is to digitally control the gate motion and optimize the switching performance with keystrokes versus what would otherwise have to be done by rewiring the board or soldering gun and gate resistor bucket.

How digital gateway drivers work

Digital gate drivers such as Microchip’s mSiC™ gate drivers eliminate these headaches. They can minimize system development time, while allowing for easier design upgrades to support future power electronics advancements. They reduce switching losses, improve system power density, prevent spurious errors, reduce ringing electromagnetic interference (EMI), reduce overvoltage and undervoltage. Solutions to these problems can be configured digitally with a digital gate drive. DriveGate profiles can be easily and quickly changed based on application needs. In addition, the gate drivers also benefit from strong short-circuit protection, which is especially important for SiC MOSFETs at higher DC voltages.

A key element of Microchip’s approach to digital gate driving is its patented Augmented Switching™ technology. It uses configurable profiles to optimize switching performance and device characteristics based on application needs. Profiles consist of a series of steps that control the voltages and durations they run for on/off switching. Designers can configure these profiles digitally through software rather than having to make changes to the hardware. This technique also includes higher levels of fault monitoring detection and short circuit response.

Microchip’s mSiC Gate Drivers accelerate the implementation of these capabilities through plug-and-play mSiC gate driver boards that work out of the box with preconfigured settings for your modules. They also include a programming kit and Intelligent Configuration Tool (ICT) software for further optimization to meet the needs of specific applications. The boards are optimized for heavy duty vehicles, auxiliary power unit (APU), charging, storage, inverter and induction heating. They can switch up to 200 kHz and report up to 7 faults and unique monitoring conditions including temperature and high voltage monitoring.

Alternatively, developers can select digital gate driver cores that enable them to create a fully functional solution with software-adjustable ±Vgs gate voltages. Module adapter boards for digital gateway driver cores are also available for evaluation purposes. Finally, digital gate driver development kits for 1200V and 1700V SiC power modules are available with or without SiC power modules.

The disruptive advantages of SiC over silicon IGBTs are fully realized with gate drivers that are smart enough to unlock their high performance. Solutions with adjustable on/off capabilities such as Microchip Augmented Switching Technology optimize switching efficiency and device characteristics based on the unique needs of a specific application. It helps designers adopt SiC with ease, speed and confidence.

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Image Source : embeddedcomputing.com

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