In 2019, the UK became the world’s first major economy to commit to ending its contribution to global warming by 2050. Meeting ‘Net Zero’ will require innovation across the economy – in new technologies and deployment of existing technologies, in new business models and consumer offerings and in new ways of designing, regulating and operating energy markets.

The Catapult is working with industrial partners and academia to develop innovative technologies and manufacturing supply chains in renewable energy and electrified vehicles that will significantly advance the UK towards its bold Net Zero goal.

The Catapult is leading UK efforts to accelerate compound semiconductor technologies for vehicle electrification and smart energy grids. In a short space of time, we have developed a track record of pulling together experienced consortia to address complex supply chain challenges, supported by agencies such as the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the Aerospace Technology Institute.

Building future automotive power electronics supply chains

With increasing electrification, power electronics will represent an ever higher proportion of the value within a vehicle and a rapidly growing global market opportunity for UK companies. While silicon will continue to play an important role, compound semiconductors such as SiC represent the highest margin items within an electric vehicle. These semiconductors are an essential part of the powertrain due to their ability to handle the high voltage and currents.

To cope with rising demand for SiC, the Catapult took early steps to anchor supply chains and volume scale-up in the UK. Our first project ESCAPE, led by McLaren Applied Technologies, creates an end-to-end supply chain for SiC involving 12 partners supported by the Advanced Propulsion Centre. This £20m project creates a sovereign capability in SiC, supporting the UK automotive industry’s transition to electric vehicles, and an export opportunity for advanced power modules.

  • As the first of its kind, the ESCAPE project gives McLaren a competitive advantage in the race to create a full UK supply chain for automotive power electronics. The Catapult’s testing and validation capability is vital to this project, perfectly complementing the activities of the other 12 partners.

    Steve Lambert

    McLaren Applied Technology

  • Case Study

    @FutureBEV


    Aim:

    The aim of this project is to develop a UK supply chain that can support the transition of BMW to SiC-based power electronics in their future generations of BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle). The project will also help anchor BMW activity in electrification in Oxford.

    Partners:

    BMW, CIL, CSA Catapult, Lyra, University of Warwick

    Following our success with the ESCAPE project, the Catapult was chosen to work with BMW on a £30m industrial scale-up project called @FutureBEV. This project exploits the higher operating voltage and current characteristics of SiC to significantly reduce the charging times and improve the efficiency of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). As charging times come down, and efficiency improves, industry anticipates increased user-acceptance of BEVs, and a rapid increase in sales.

    UK companies are benefiting from BMW’s innovation in power electronics and the potential for new business opportunities with a major automotive manufacturer. The demonstrators being developed within the project could be incorporated into new battery electric vehicles as soon as 2024, helping to transform the UK’s automotive industry to use clean energy.

    The @FutureBEV project promises to accelerate the uptake of battery electric vehicles, placing BMW firmly at the forefront of this exciting technology.

    David Bock

    Project director at BMW


    This project lays the foundation for 100kW/l inverters, significantly exceeding the APC 2035 and further industry targets

    @FutureBev will develop next generation EV technology and a new supply chain solution for sub components used in electric vehicles

    If successful, there is an opportunity for this concept to be adopted for future i Series BEVs by BMW from 2024

An electric revolution

Following our success in supply chain development, the Catapult was chosen to establish one of four new Industrialisation Centres in Newport as part of a £30m investment by UKRI. Working with the other centres in Strathclyde, Sunderland and Nottingham, the Newport centre will develop next-generation materials and components for advanced power electronics, machines and drives as part of our commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050.

The centres form part of a wider initiative under the Industrial Strategy, supporting the challenge: ‘Driving the Electric Revolution’. By applying electrification technologies more broadly, to sectors including automotive, rail, marine and aerospace, the centres will unlock £10bn in power electronics and an additional £2bn in electric machines, whilst contributing to the goal of Net Zero.

Several ‘fast-start’ projects are already underway. For example, the Catapult is working with YASA, developers of the world’s highest performance electric motors in terms of power density, developing new thermal management solutions to further increase the power density of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). This project will push the performance of YASA’s patented technology to new limits, delivering world-leading performance.

  • The UK has ambitious plans to reach net zero by 2050, through initiatives such as the Driving the Electric Revolution challenge that I lead for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Advancing technologies for power electronics, machines and drives is at the heart of this challenge, and I am excited that we are working closely with the Catapult on these fundamental net zero technologies.

    Professor Will Drury

    UKRI Challenge Director, Driving the Electric Revolution