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Consortium supports new car power standard

The car of the future will come with a variety of nifty features, from heated windshields to devices that cut noxious emissions. But there's a problem: the current electrical system in automobiles simply won't be able to handle the power requirements of cars even just 10 years hence.

Now the 20 companies that comprise the MIT/Industry Consortium on Advanced Automotive Electrical/Electronic Components and Systems have lent their support to a new power standard that will more than triple the amount of electrical power available to future cars, from the current 12 volts to 42 volts. Although the automotive industry as a whole has been considering adoption of a more powerful electrical system, opinions vary on the ultimate voltage. The MIT consortium's support for 42 volts is important because the companies involved represent a "large and diverse group of stakeholders -- the people who will have to work together to make this happen," said Dr. Thomas A. Keim, a research scientist in MIT's Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES), where the consortium is based.

A 42-volt system "will handle the power requirements foreseeable for some time into the future," said Dr. Keim, who is co-director of the consortium with Professor John Kassakian of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Gary DesGroseilliers is the consortium's program manager.

Examples of upcoming features that will rely on that power include environmental improvements such as catalytic converters that are preheated to reduce emissions, and electromagnetically controlled engine valves that will improve performance and also decrease emissions. In addition, said Dr. Keim, "more and more cars will have heated seats and other consumer comfort features."

Issues related to a 42-volt system will be discussed at two upcoming conferences. Professor Kassakian, who is also director of LEES, is giving a talk at the October 8-9 Internationale Elektronik im Kraftfahrzeug in Germany. Several other consortium members will be giving talks on the 42-volt system at the 1998 International Congress on Transportation Electronics (Convergence) from October 19-21 in Michigan.


The MIT consortium released the following statement October 6 concerning its support for the 42-volt system:

"New features and prospective emissions/fuel economy requirements are creating electrical power needs in future automobiles which today's conventional system cannot adequately supply at 14 Vdc [DC volts] (nominal, with a 12-volt battery). In response, representatives of the automobile manufacturers and component suppliers who comprise the MIT/Industry Consortium on Advanced Automotive Electrical/Electronic Components and Systems have agreed that the next-generation automotive electrical system should include a higher-voltage bus operating at 42 Vdc (nominal, with a 36-volt battery). Consortium representatives are actively engaged in international efforts to develop voltage range specifications for the new 42V PowerNet system and encourage broad industry cooperation to ensure their incorporation into an industry standard."

Consortium members are AMP Inc., BMW AG, Robert Bosch Corp., Daimler-Benz AG, Delphi Automotive Systems, Dow Automotive Group, Eaton Corp., Ford Motor Corp., General Motors Corp., ISAD Electronic Systems, Johnson Electric North America, Inc., Magneti Marelli, Motorola, Omron Automotive Electronics, PSA-Peugeot Citro������������������n, Renault, Siemens, UT Automotive, Volvo and Yazaki Corp.

The consortium was formed to support research in advanced automotive electrical systems, components and their manufacturing processes, and to provide members access to the results of this work, according to its mission statement. It also provides a neutral forum for the discussion of industry-wide issues relevant to automotive electrical and electronic systems, and allows interactions between members and MIT students entering the job market.

For more information, go to the consortium's web site, or call x3-4631 (voice) or x8-6774 (fax).

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 7, 1998.

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