The US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has announced $30m in funding for 21 projects as part of the CIRCUITS program (‘Creating Innovative and Reliable Circuits Using Inventive Topologies and Semiconductors’).
Since it is reckoned that, by 2030, 80% of all US electricity could pass through power electronics devices, CIRCUITS project teams aim to accelerate the development and deployment of power converters that save energy. Projects hence leverage efficient, lightweight and reliable power converters based on wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductor technology, using materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) or gallium nitride (GaN) instead of the incumbent silicon.
“Hardware built with WBG devices has the potential to be smaller, lighter, and much more energy-efficient, with applications across valuable sectors including transportation, information technology, the grid, and consumer electronics,” says ARPA-E acting director Dr Eric Rohlfing. “Developments from CIRCUITS projects could one day lead to super-fast, compact electric vehicle chargers, more efficient ship propulsion systems, and lighter, aerodynamic aircraft that can carry more passengers with less fuel,” he adds.
WBG semiconductors allow devices to operate at significantly higher speeds, voltages and temperatures than conventional semiconductor materials, and do so in smaller, lighter packages. Previous efforts by ARPA-E have focused primarily on WBG material and device development. CIRCUITS focuses on new circuit topologies and system designs, ensuring that the performance benefits of WBG devices are maximized.
Examples of the 21 CIRCUITS projects that were selected include the following:
- $847,888 to Imagen Energy LLC of New Berlin, WI for ‘1200V SiC-Based Extremely Compact, 500kW, 2000Hz Inverter for High Speed Permanent Magnet Synchronous Machine (PMSM) Applications (Category II)’ to develop a SiC-based compact motor drive system to efficiently control high-power (>500kW), high-performance permanent magnet electric motors operating at extremely high speed (>20,000rpm). Imagen Energy’s design seeks to address a major roadblock in operating electric motors at high speed, namely overcoming large back electromotive forces (BEMF). The project team aims to demonstrate a motor drive capable of handling large BEMF and increase motor system efficiency over a broad range of operating speeds.
- $2,163,630 for the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR for ‘Reliable, High Power Density Inverters for Heavy Equipment Applications (Category II)’ to develop a 2 x 250kW power inverter system for use in the electrification of heavy equipment and other higher-volume transportation applications (e.g. trucks, buses, cars). The team will leverage SiC power electronics devices to achieve high levels of efficiency while greatly increasing the volumetric and gravimetric power density of its system over existing ones. The team aims to improve power density four-fold and to reduce converter cost by 50% compared to existing technology.