Industry Article

The 48-Volt Starter Generator for Electric Vehicle Architectures

April 24, 2018 by Ivan Petrov, Nexperia

Looking at the electrification of the powertrain, this article explores why 48-volt architecture makes sense and then takes a look at some of the different mounting options for 48-volt starter generators.

Looking at the electrification of the powertrain, this article explores why 48-volt architecture makes sense and then takes a look at some of the different mounting options for 48-volt starter generators.

2017 saw significant growth across the whole spectrum of the automotive industry – from car OEMs to small component manufacturers. One increasingly popular topic was (and still is) vehicle electrification; specifically the 48-volt architecture. In fact, considering the plentiful results the term ’48-volt‘ (or ’48V’) produces in any search engine shows that this engineering solution for vehicle systems is here to stay.

In this article, I will touch on the reasoning behind the new voltage level and delve into one of its main applications: the 48-volt starter generator. 

Why 48-Volt?

An obvious initial question is: “why 48-volt?”. This is an important question, bearing in mind that in the late 1990s a 42-volt electrical power standard was proposed to replace the 12-volt standard. Although it did not gain momentum, it’s purpose was to address some of the same issues we face today, including more powerful electrically-driven accessories and lighter wiring harnesses. However, there are two main reasons for selecting 48 volts as the nominal value: safety and efficiency.   

A major concern when increasing voltage is the potential safety hazard it may impose on humans. While some continue to debate whether 48-volt architecture is safe enough, this voltage level provides the additional power required without drifting into the ‘high-voltage’ domain.

Figure 1 shows the different voltage levels of operation for the 48-volt battery. The limit of 60 volts (DC) is the upper safety maximum before the battery voltage is considered too dangerous—as mentioned in ZVEI’s document Voltage Classes for Electric Mobility (PDF). Optimal performance is achieved in the ’normal operation‘ range, however electronic components within the vehicle should be able to withstand worst-case high-voltage conditions.


Safety voltage margins

Figure 1. Safety voltage margins


As I’ve previously stated, the current 12-volt system is unable to cope with the growing demand for electrical power within conventional vehicles. However, the 42-volt proposal was a complete replacement of the 12-volt electrical architecture while 48-volt complements it. The 48-volt battery simply adds an additional power source for new applications, which also contribute to a smoother driving experience. Furthermore, the size and cost of wiring and components are significantly reduced due to the higher voltage of the 48-volt battery. 

A Closer Look at 48-Volt Starter Generator Options

Having a similar appearance to the car alternator (Figure 2) but slightly bigger in size, the 48-volt starter generator’s initial topology position is at the engine’s belt. The belt-driven starter generator (BSG), also known as P0 architecture (Figure 3) is a cost-effective solution which can provide up to a 15% reduction in CO2.

Looking at some boost recuperation systems (PDF), the maximum power ratings are around 10kW for mechanical output in boost mode and 12kW for electrical output during recuperation—both at 48-volts. While these numbers are rated for short periods of time, the BSG’s continuous power can reach up to 5kW with maximum efficiency of 85%. 


Car alternator

Figure 2. Car alternator


P0 starter generator topology

Figure 3. P0 starter generator topology


However, with tightening emission regulations, automotive Tier 1 suppliers have developed different starter generator topologies to further reduce the CO2 footprint of 48-volt mild hybrid vehicles. In ascending order, these configurations offer better emission reduction but become increasingly complex and costly.


48-volt mild hybrid starter generator topologies

Figure 4. 48-volt mild hybrid starter generator topologies

Crankshaft Mounted Start Generator (P1)

As the name suggests, this solution has the starter generator mounted directly on the crankshaft (which converts the linear motion of pistons into rotary motion). This provides higher torque than the P0 architecture due to the absence of a belt drive, and with no belt losses, there is greater efficiency.

The maximum power required is 10 kW but the efficiency goes up to 94%. However, one significant limitation of this solution is that torque requirements can be demanding, due to no torque/speed ratio between the crankshaft and the starter generator. An example of this topology is the 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHybrid.

Shaft-Mounted Machine (P2/P3)

Both P0 and P1 architectures are mounted on the engine, but there are other mounting options such as having the 48-volt electrical machine on the gearbox’s input/output shaft (P2/P3 respectively). By providing a mechanical disconnect, this translates to improved energy flow efficiency and allows for the provision of hybrid functions (e.g., e-drive).

The P2 architecture is either integrated into the transmission on the input shaft or attached on the side, resulting in increased energy recuperation and electrical drive capabilities. Mounting the solution on the output shaft (P3), provides the highest level of the above-mentioned benefits. The obvious disadvantage of the shaft-mounted electrical machine is the cost of integration.

Rear Axle Mounted Electrical Machine (P4)

The ultimate architecture at this time involves mounting at the rear axle drive (P4). This provides the vehicle with 4-wheel drive capabilities, with a combustion engine at the front and an electrical machine at the back. The maximum power requirement of the P2-P4 architectures can reach up to 21kW with an efficiency of 95%. Moving the starter generator closer to the rear axle also provides more hybrid functionality to the vehicle. The new 48-volt machine is able to reduce the CO2 emissions by up to 21% in urban driving environment depending on its architecture.

What is more, this high-power application requires a significant portion of electronics to drive it. Naturally, power MOSFETs play a key role in these electronic modules, but they need to be capable of withstanding worst-case scenarios such as excessive currents and thermal leakages.

Industry Articles are a form of content that allows industry partners to share useful news, messages, and technology with All About Circuits readers in a way editorial content is not well suited to. All Industry Articles are subject to strict editorial guidelines with the intention of offering readers useful news, technical expertise, or stories. The viewpoints and opinions expressed in Industry Articles are those of the partner and not necessarily those of All About Circuits or its writers.

  • M
    MisterBill2 April 24, 2018

    The primary benefit of a 48 volt system would be to the sellers of the hardware. Consider that all of the vehicle’s logic runs at a maximum of 5 volts, and more commonly 3.3 volts. So 48 is not needed there. Next, consider that LED devices run on lower voltages, with the very high output LEDs using almost 5 volts. And for reliability they are not put in long strings. Next, as cars are getting lighter and smaller, there are fewer motors for all of those luxury toy items that proliferate in the large cars of yesterday. Beyond those facts, 48 volts is much to low a voltage for the electric drive system, which is typically running in the 300 volts plus range. For an engine assist package in a vehicle with an IC engine,is the extra boost really worth the cost? How about an honest answer for that question. So really, it gets down to powering the brake booster and the power steering systems on both electric drive and IC engine models. The fact is that both work very well in the present, and creating a whole new realm of hardware will start the problem solving sequence all over again. Nobody else wants that.

    Like. Reply
    • M
      mtfwalker April 30, 2018
      This is an interesting point-of-view. True, the actual voltages required by the car's electronic systems are if anything moving lower, with many processors running at 1.8V and 5V I/O compatibility dropped in favour 3.3V I/O many years ago. However, there are some fundamentals driving (pardon the pun) a 48V system. Firstly, there is a trend for larger cars like SUVs and People-Carriers (Dont believe me? Just do an i-Spy survey on the school run). This means systems like the air conditioning compressors and fans need to be bigger and therefore the power load requirement is greater. It also means that the wiring loom distances are getting longer. Secondly, there is a proliferation of technology (infotainment; navigation; Bluetooth connectivity) now filtering down from the high-end to entry-level vehicles as standard. Compared to the mustard-coloured Mini Clubman I owned 30 years ago (proper Mini, not BMW) the demand on the battery and the electrical system is off-the-scale. The key is how to distribute that power. You could do it at 12V but the cables have to be bigger in diameter to handle the current. The bigger the cable, the more weight it adds to the vehicle, compromising performance. As you concede, " are getting lighter and smaller," so a move to 48V distribution with 48V components (e.g. servos for power steering, etc.) and local point-of-load regulation down to the required logic voltage makes good sense. It's Ohm's law after all: 4x higher voltage; 4x lower current; 16x lower I[squared]R losses in the cabling, so the more efficient and 'greener' the vehicle can be whilst allowing the cabling to be smaller and lighter also helping with fuel efficiency. True, electric and hybrid powertrains are running from 300V (currently, but expect to see this go up to 600-800V because capacity is proportional to V[squared]). However, 300V is not considered 'safe' as far as user accessible equipment is concerned, so distribution at a safe extra-low-voltage (less than 60V) like 48V is a good compromise.
      Like. Reply
  • M
    MisterBill2 April 24, 2018

    A belt-drive connected starter is an interesting concept for implementing the stop-start driving mode, but in that mode it also raises some serious concerns about reliability. Present starter motor systems, at least in all of the vehicles that I have owned, have been the most reliable part of the vehicle, except that batteries do need to be replaced every few years. But belts on the front of the engine, and timing belts within the engine, have a less impressive track record. And when it comes to servicing them, replacing a starter motor has usually been less work to replace than any current drive belt.
    When it comes to the whole concept of stop-start engine operation, the proposed computer controlled system would produce only about half of the savings that a skilled driver can routinely deliver, and probably that will not change because no computer will have the ability to see and understand nearly as well as a focused driver. And the energy needed to restart the engine has been much less for the past ten years as electronic fuel injection has shortened cranking times to just a very few seconds. In fact, most engines start within the first revolution of cranking. The one function that will suffer quite a bit with staop-start operation is the cold blast air conditioning that some drivers have chosen. They get no sympathy from me.

    Like. Reply