Car Tech 101: The move to higher-voltage electrical systems
Cooley On Cars
Today your car almost certainly uses exclusively 12 volts direct current to do just about everything.
You know it, this is the stuff that comes out of the cigarette lighter what we call the power port now.
On your console.
But it flows all over your vehicle, from tail lights to ignition system.
Sometimes it's converted to higher voltage for things like high intensity discharge headlamps.
But for the most part, this car is a 12 volt world.
And that dates back over 60 years.
Before that, it was a six volt world, and.
But now we're cutting the other way to higher voltage, namely 48.
Now just as 12 volts is a big increase in the ability to get things done and do it efficiently over 6 volts, 48 volts is multi-fold improvement over the current standard yet it remains notably below the 50 volt DC line that is generally considered the beginning of substantial shock risk.
To humans now the main motivation for higher voltage is coming largely from the engine bay.
The things that use to be driven by these sloppy parasitic belts off the engine are now being driven by integral electric motors.
I'm talking about things like power steering pumps, air-conditioning compressors and water pumps that move coolants around the engine.
You can drive those by electricity and only when they're needed as supposed to constantly tattered to a belt you get nice efficiencies.
And you also can package things a little more tightly in the engine bay.
And speaking of electrifying things, several auto makers are considering using new electric turbo chargers.
Which are spun up by an integral 48 volt motor, instead of by passing exhaust gasses.
Which should reduce lag, make the plumbing more compact, and lower fuel consumption while creating that additional power.
It goes without saying the EVs already use.
High voltage, like the 375 volt system that powers the Tesla.
And you've seen those orange wire housings inside electric cars and strong hybrids.
Those call out the high voltage runs, but those are currently limited to systems that turn the wheels, not much else.
But even if you don't look at a future with strong hybrids plug in hybrids and electric cars the move to 48 volts seems like its ready to happen because it grants so much more efficiency to even conventional gas engine cars.
Allows packaging to be much more flexible, which designers love and takes components that zap the engines rotational energy all the time and convert them to devices that tax mostly the electrical system just part of the time.
More car tech demystified right now.
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