The Obama administration picked North Carolina State University to lead a public-private manufacturing innovation institute for next generation power electronics.
Supported by a $70 million Department of Energy (DOE) investment over five years as well as a matching $70 million in non-federal cost-share, the institute will bring together over 25 companies, universities and state and federal organizations to invent and manufacture wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor-based power electronics that are cost-competitive and 10 times more powerful than current silicon-based technology on the market.
WBG semiconductors such as silicon carbide and gallium nitride can operate at higher temperatures and have greater durability and reliability at higher voltages and frequencies. With this new technology, we could shrink the size of a typical laptop power adapter to one-fifth the size of today’s adapters, while providing even better performance and cutting energy use about 20 percent. In a typical laptop, one-fourth of the power flowing from the wall outlet is lost as waste heat; WBG semiconductors could cut these power conversion losses by up to 90 percent.
WBG semiconductors could also transform the plug-in electric vehicle industry — making it easier and cheaper to own and drive an electric vehicle. For example, these semiconductors could reduce the size of a vehicle cooling system by about 60 percent and cut the size of a fast DC charging station to the size of a kitchen microwave.
As the cost of clean energy technologies continues to come down, seamless and efficient grid integration will help make these resources and products even more affordable, while giving Americans more control over how they use energy in their homes and businesses. WBG semiconductors will help overcome a range of generation, transmission, distribution and end-use challenges to support a cleaner, affordable and more secure U.S. energy mix.
Power electronics — such as inverters, transformers and transistors — help control and convert electricity and are playing a growing role in electricity generation, distribution and transmission. According to a study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, about 30 percent of all power generation today uses power electronics between the point of generation and its end use.
By 2030, this is expected to jump to 80 percent of generated electricity — supporting greater renewable energy integration and increased grid reliability. WBG semiconductor-based power electronics will be able to better withstand the power loads and switching frequencies required by next generation utility technologies.
Power electronics that use WBG semiconductors will also be smaller, more efficient and cost less. A WBG semiconductor-based inverter, which switches electricity from direct current to alternating current, could be four times more powerful, half the cost and one-fourth the size and weight of a traditional inverter. At a larger-scale, WBG semiconductors could help reduce the size of an 8,000 lbs. substation to 100 lbs. and the size of a suitcase — ultimately helping to lower the cost of electricity and build a stronger, more reliable grid.