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Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology

In today's increasingly electrified world, power conversion--the process of converting electricity between different currents, voltage levels, and frequencies--forms a vital link between the electronic devices we use every day and the sources of power required to run them. The projects that make up ARPA-E's ADEPT program, short for "Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology," are paving the way for more energy efficient power conversion and advancing the basic building blocks of power conversion: circuits, transistors, inductors, transformers, and capacitors.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

Arkansas Power Electronics International, Inc.

Low-Cost, Highly Integrated, Silicon Carbide Multi-Chip Power Modules for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Currently, charging the battery of an electric vehicle (EV) is a time-consuming process because chargers can only draw about as much power from the grid as a hair dryer. APEI is developing an EV charger that can draw as much power as a clothes dryer, which would drastically speed up charging time. APEI's charger uses silicon carbide (SiC)-based power transistors. These transistors control the electrical energy flowing through the charger's circuits more effectively and efficiently than traditional transistors made of straight silicon. The SiC-based transistors also require less cooling, enabling APEI to create EV chargers that are 10 times smaller than existing chargers.

Case Western Reserve University

High-Power Titanate Capacitors for Power Electronics

There is a constant demand for better performing, more compact, lighter-weight, and lower-cost electronic devices. Unfortunately, the materials traditionally used to make components for electronic devices have reached their limits. Case Western Reserve University is developing capacitors made of new materials that could be used to produce the next generation of compact and efficient high-powered consumer electronics and electronic vehicles. A capacitor is an important component of an electronic device. It stores an electric charge and then discharges it into an electrical circuit in the device. Case Western is creating its capacitors from titanium, an abundant material extracted from ore which can be found in the U.S. Case Western's capacitors store electric charges on the surfaces of films, which are grown on a titanium alloy electrode that is formed as a spinal column with attached branches. The new material and spine design make the capacitor smaller and lighter than traditional capacitors, and they enable the component to store 300% more energy than capacitors of the same weight made of tantalum, the current industry standard. Case Western's titanium-alloy capacitors also spontaneously self-repair, which prolongs their life.

Cree, Inc.

15 kV SiC IGBT Power Modules for Grid-Scale Power Conversion

Cree is developing silicon carbide (SiC) power transistors that are 50% more energy efficient than traditional transistors. Transistors act like a switch, controlling the electrical energy that flows through an electrical circuit. Most power transistors today use silicon semiconductors to conduct electricity. However, transistors with SiC semiconductors operate at much higher temperatures, as well as higher voltage and power levels than their silicon counterparts. SiC-based transistors are also smaller and require less cooling than those made with traditional silicon power technology. Cree's SiC transistors will enable electrical circuits to handle higher power levels more efficiently, and they will result in much smaller and lighter electrical devices and power converters. Cree, an established leader in SiC technology, has already released a commercially available SiC transistor that can operate at up to 1,200 volts. The company has also demonstrated a utility-scale SiC transistor that operates at up to 15,000 volts.

CUNY Energy Institute


City University of New York (CUNY) Energy Institute is developing less expensive, more efficient, smaller, and longer-lasting power converters for energy-efficient LED lights. LEDs produce light more efficiently than incandescent lights and last significantly longer than compact fluorescent bulbs, but they require more sophisticated power converter technology, which increases their cost. LEDs need more sophisticated converters because they require a different type of power (low-voltage direct current, or DC) than what's generally supplied by power outlets. CUNY Energy Institute is developing sophisticated power converters for LEDs that contain capacitors made from new, nanoscale materials. Capacitors are electrical components that are used to store energy. CUNY Energy Institute's unique capacitors are configured with advanced power circuits to more efficiently control and convert power to the LED lighting source. They also eliminate the need for large magnetic components, instead relying on networks of capacitors that can be easily printed on plastic substrate. CUNY Energy Institute's prototype LED power converter already meets DOE's 2020 projections for the energy efficiency of LED power converters.

General Electric

Nanostructured Scalable Thick-Film Magnetics

Magnetic components are typically the largest components in a power converter. To date, however, researchers haven't found an effective way to reduce their size without negatively impacting their performance. And, reducing the size of the converter's other components isn't usually an option because shrinking them can also diminish the effectiveness of the magnetic components. General Electric (GE) Global Research is developing smaller magnetic components for power converters that maintain high performance levels. The company is building smaller components with magnetic films. These films are created using the condensation of a vaporized form of the magnetic material. It's a purely physical process that involves no chemical reactions, so the film composition is uniform. This process makes it possible to create a millimeter-thick film deposition over a wide surface area fairly quickly, which would save on manufacturing costs. In fact, GE can produce 1-10 millimeter-thick films in hours. The magnetic components that GE is developing for this project could be used in a variety of applications, including solar inverters, electric vehicles, and lighting.

GeneSiC Semiconductor

Silicon Carbide Anode Switched Thyristor for Medium-Voltage Power Conversion

GeneSiC Semiconductor is developing an advanced silicon-carbide (SiC)-based semiconductor called an anode-switched thyristor. This low-cost, compact SiC semiconductor conducts higher levels of electrical energy with better precision than traditional silicon semiconductors. This efficiency will enable a dramatic reduction in the size, weight, and volume of the power converters and the electronic devices they are used in. GeneSiC is developing its SiC-based semiconductor for utility-scale power converters. Traditional silicon semiconductors can't process the high voltages that utility-scale power distribution requires, and they must be stacked in complicated circuits that require bulky insulation and cooling hardware. GeneSiC's semiconductors are well suited for high-power applications like large-scale renewable wind and solar energy installations.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Highly Laminated, High-Saturation-Flux-Density Magnetic Cores for On-Chip Inductors in Power Converter Applications

Georgia Tech Research Corporation is creating compact, low-profile power adapters and power bricks using materials and tools adapted from other industries and from grid-scale power applications. Adapters and bricks convert electrical energy into usable power for many types of electronic devices, including laptop computers and mobile phones. These converters are often called wall warts because they are big, bulky, and sometimes cover up an adjacent wall socket that could be used to power another electronic device. The magnetic components traditionally used to make adapters and bricks have reached their limits; they can't be made any smaller without sacrificing performance. Georgia Tech is taking a cue from grid-scale power converters that use iron alloys as magnetic cores. These low-cost alloys can handle more power than other materials, but the iron must be stacked in insulated plates to maximize energy efficiency. In order to create compact, low-profile power adapters and bricks, these stacked iron plates must be extremely thin--only hundreds of nanometers in thickness, in fact. To make plates this thin, Georgia Tech is using manufacturing tools used in microelectromechanics and other small-scale industries.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Dynamic Control of Grid Assets Using Direct AC Converter Cells

Georgia Tech Research Corporation is developing a cost-effective, utility-scale power router that uses an enhanced transformer to more efficiently direct power on the grid. Existing power routing technologies are too expensive for widespread use, but the ability to route grid power to match real-time demand and power outages would significantly reduce energy costs for utilities, municipalities, and consumers. Georgia Tech is adding a power converter to an existing grid transformer to better control power flows at about 1/10th the cost of existing power routing solutions. Transformers convert the high-voltage electricity that is transmitted through the grid into the low-voltage electricity that is used by homes and businesses. The added converter uses fewer steps to convert some types of power and eliminates unnecessary power storage, among other improvements. The enhanced transformer is more efficient, and it would still work even if the converter fails, ensuring grid reliability.

HRL Laboratories, LLC

Gallium-Nitride Switch Technology for Bi-Directional Battery-to-Grid Charger Applications

HRL Laboratories is using gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors to create battery chargers for electric vehicles (EVs) that are more compact and efficient than traditional EV chargers. Reducing the size and weight of the battery charger is important because it would help improve the overall performance of the EV. GaN semiconductors process electricity faster than the silicon semiconductors used in most conventional EV battery chargers. These high-speed semiconductors can be paired with lighter-weight electrical circuit components, which helps decrease the overall weight of the EV battery charger. HRL Laboratories is combining the performance advantages of GaN semiconductors with an innovative, interactive battery-to-grid energy distribution design. This design would support 2-way power flow, enabling EV battery chargers to not only draw energy from the power grid, but also store and feed energy back into it.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Advanced Technologies for Integrated Power Electronics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is teaming with Georgia Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, and the University of Pennsylvania to create more efficient power circuits for energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) through advances in 3 related areas. First, the team is using semiconductors made of high-performing gallium nitride grown on a low-cost silicon base (GaN-on-Si). These GaN-on-Si semiconductors conduct electricity more efficiently than traditional silicon semiconductors. Second, the team is developing new magnetic materials and structures to reduce the size and increase the efficiency of an important LED power component, the inductor. This advancement is important because magnetics are the largest and most expensive part of a circuit. Finally, the team is creating an entirely new circuit design to optimize the performance of the new semiconductors and magnetic devices it is using.

Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, LLC

Integrated Power Chip Converter for Solid-State Lighting

Teledyne Scientific & Imaging is developing cost-effective power drivers for energy-efficient LED lights that fit on a compact chip. These power drivers are important because they transmit power throughout the LED device. Traditional LED driver components waste energy and don't last as long as the LED itself. They are also large and bulky, so they must be assembled onto a circuit board separately which increases the overall manufacturing cost of the LED light. Teledyne is shrinking the size and improving the efficiency of its LED driver components by using thin layers of an iron magnetic alloy and new gallium nitride on silicon devices. Smaller, more efficient components will enable the drivers to be integrated on a single chip, reducing costs. The new semiconductors in Teledyne's drivers can also handle higher levels of power and last longer without sacrificing efficiency. Initial applications for Teledyne's LED power drivers include refrigerated grocery display cases and retail lighting.

Transphorm, Inc.

High-Performance GaN HEMT Modules for Agile Power Electronics

Transphorm is developing transistors with gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors that could be used to make cost-effective, high-performance power converters for a variety of applications, including electric motor drives which transmit power to a motor. A transistor acts like a switch, controlling the electrical energy that flows around an electrical circuit. Most transistors today use low-cost silicon semiconductors to conduct electrical energy, but silicon transistors don't operate efficiently at high speeds and voltage levels. Transphorm is using GaN as a semiconductor material in its transistors because GaN performs better at higher voltages and frequencies, and it is more energy efficient than straight silicon. However, Transphorm is using inexpensive silicon as a base to help keep costs low. The company is also packaging its transistors with other electrical components that can operate quickly and efficiently at high power levels--increasing the overall efficiency of both the transistor and the entire motor drive.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Isolated Converter with Integrated Passives and Low Material Stress

The Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES) at Virginia Tech is developing an extremely efficient power converter that could be used in power adapters for small, light-weight laptops and other types of mobile electronic devices. Power adapters convert electrical energy into usable power for an electronic device, and they currently waste a lot of energy when they are plugged into an outlet to power up. CPES is integrating high-density capacitors, new magnetic materials, high-frequency integrated circuits, and a constant-flux transformer to create its efficient power converter. The high-density capacitors enable the power adapter to store more energy. The new magnetic materials also increase energy storage, and they can be precisely dispensed using a low-cost ink-jet printer which keeps costs down. The high-frequency integrated circuits can handle more power, and they can handle it more efficiently. And, the constant-flux transformer processes a consistent flow of electrical current, which makes the converter more efficient.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Power Supplies on a Chip

The Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES) at Virginia Tech is finding ways to save real estate on a computer's motherboard that could be used for other critical functions. Every computer processor today contains a voltage regulator that automatically maintains a constant level of electricity entering the device. These regulators contain bulky components and take up about 30% of a computer's motherboard. CPES is developing a voltage regulator that uses semiconductors made of gallium nitride on silicon (GaN-on-Si) and high-frequency soft magnetic material. These materials are integrated on a small, 3D chip that can handle the same amount of power as traditional voltage regulators at 1/10 the size and with improved efficiency. The small size also frees up to 90% of the motherboard space occupied by current voltage regulators.

Cree, with the help of ARPA-E funding, has developed a Silicon Carbide (SIC) transistor which can be used to create solid state transformers capable of meeting the unique needs of the emerging smart grid. SIC transistors are different from common silicon computer chips in that they handle grid scale voltages with ease and their high frequency switching is well suited to the intermittent nature of renewable energy generation.

Strong strategic partnerships can be the difference between those technologies that only achieve success in the lab and those that actually break into the marketplace. Two ARPA-E awardees—AutoGrid and APEI—have forged strategic partnerships that have positioned their technologies to achieve major success in the market. This video features remarks from ARPA-E Technology-to-Market Advisor Josh Gould and interviews with technologists at AutoGrid and APEI, who each tell the story of how their company leveraged relationships with strategic partners to broaden their customer base and bring their technology to life.
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