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Creating Innovative and Reliable Circuits Using Inventive Topologies and Semiconductors

Development of advanced power electronics with unprecedented functionality, efficiency, reliability, and reduced form factor will provide the United States a critical technological advantage in an increasingly electrified world economy. The projects that comprise ARPA E's CIRCUITS (Creating Innovative and Reliable Circuits Using Inventive Topologies and Semiconductors) program seek to accelerate the development and deployment of a new class of efficient, lightweight, and reliable power converters, based on wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors. CIRCUITS projects will establish the building blocks of this class of power converter by advancing higher efficiency designs that exhibit enhanced reliability and superior total cost of ownership. In addition, a reduced form factor (size and weight) will drive adoption of higher performance and more efficient power converters relative to today's state-of-the-art systems. Past ARPA-E programs have focused on challenges associated with fabricating WBG high-performance switching devices. Program developments led to a new generation of devices that operate at much higher powers, voltages, frequencies, and temperatures than traditional silicon-based semiconductor devices. CIRCUITS projects will build on these earlier ARPA-E programs by designing circuit topologies optimally suited for WBG attributes to maximize overall electrical system performance. Innovations stemming from CIRCUITS projects have the potential to affect high-impact applications wherever electrical power is generated or used, including the electric grid, industrial motor controllers, automotive electrification, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, solar and wind power systems, datacenters, aerospace control surfaces, wireless power transfer, and consumer electronics.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.    

Cree Fayetteville, Inc.

Smart, Compact, Efficient 500kW DC Fast Charger

Cree Fayetteville (operating as Wolfspeed, A Cree Company) will team with Ford Motor Company and the University of Michigan-Dearborn to build a power converter for DC fast chargers for electric vehicles using a solid-state transformer based on silicon carbide. The team will construct a single-phase 500 kW building block for a DC fast charger that is at least four times the power density of todays installed units. This device would offer significant improvements in efficiency (greater than 60% less power losses), size/weight (greater than 75% smaller size, 85% less weight), and cost (40% lower materials costs) over the state-of-the-art. Using this system, an electric vehicle (100 kWh) will deliver long driving range with 6 mins of recharge. The compact size also reduces the footprint and structural costs in high-cost real estate in areas with high-population. The teaming of an end user (Ford) directly with the disruptive technology provider (Cree Fayetteville) may accelerate the deployment of fast charge capability for electric vehicles.

Eaton Corporation

SiC-Based Wireless Power Transformation for Data Centers & Medium Voltage Applications

Eaton will develop and validate a wireless-power-based computer server supply that enables distribution of medium voltage (AC or DC) throughout a datacenter and converts it to the 48V DC used by computer servers. Datacenters require multiple voltage conversions steps, reducing the efficiency of power distribution from the grid to the server. The converter will employ commercially available wide-bandgap power devices for both the medium-voltage transmitter circuit and the low-voltage receiver circuit, respectively. The heart of the medium voltage supply is the wireless power transfer transformer, which will eliminate the multiple conversion stages present at datacenter locations all while providing operators touch-safe isolation from the medium input voltage side. If successful, the technology can reduce U.S. datacenter energy consumption and operations costs. It will eliminate the need of some transformers and reduce copper use in conductors providing a significant cost and space savings when medium voltage distribution is used.

Empower Semiconductor, Inc

Resonant Voltage Regulator Architecture Eliminates 30-50% Energy Consumption of Digital ICs

Empower Semiconductor will develop a new architecture for regulating voltage in integrated circuits (IC) like computer microprocessors. Empower's design will enable faster & more accurate power delivery than today's power management hardware. As transistors continue to shrink, the number of transistors per chip has increased, resulting in increased computing power. Existing Voltage Regulator ICs (VRICs) have not kept pace and deliver excessive (and wasted) power to these advanced digital ICs. The team has proposed a new resonant voltage regulator architecture based on silicon technology that can power digital ICs with 5x improved voltage regulation and 1,000x faster transient response. The increased regulation serves to eliminate excess voltage, which translates to significant energy savings. The dramatic increase in transient response enables dynamic voltage scaling which allows the digital IC to reduce its voltage within a few cycles when its full operation & voltage is not needed, thereby further conserving energy. If successful, these improvements in speed and accuracy translate to up to 50% reduction in energy consumption for a digital IC, while enabling a much smaller form factor and lower costs.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Grid-Connected Modular Soft-Switching Solid State Transformers (M-S4T)

Georgia Tech Research Corporation and its project team will develop a solid-state transformer for medium-voltage grid applications using silicon carbide with a focus on compact size and high-performance. Traditional grid connected transformers have been used for over 100 years to 'step down' higher voltage to lower voltage. Higher voltages allows for delivery of power over longer distances and lower voltages keeps consumers safe. But traditional distribution transformers lack integrated sensing, communications, and controls. They also lack the ability to control the voltage, current, frequency, power factor or anything else to improve local or global performance. Solid-state transformers can provide improvements and Georgia Tech's design seeks to address major roadblocks to their implementation, namely insulation, cooling, voltage change, and magnetic field issues, as well as downstream protection against abnormal current faults. If successful, the team will greatly increase transformer functionality while reducing its size over current technologies, affecting application areas like grid energy storage, solar photovoltaics and electric vehicle fast chargers, while also enabling better grid monitoring and easy retrofits.

Illinois Institute of Technology

Wide Bandgap Solid State Circuit Breakers for AC and DC Microgrids

Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) will develop autonomously operated, programmable, and intelligent bidirectional solid-state circuit breakers (SSCB) using transistors based on gallium nitride (GaN). Renewable power sources and other distributed energy resources feed electricity to the utility grid through interfacing power electronic converters, but the power converters cannot withstand a fault condition (abnormal electric current) for more than a few microseconds. Circuit faults cause either catastrophic destruction or protective shutdown of the converters, resulting in loss of power reliability. Traditional mechanical circuit breakers are too slow to address this challenge. The team's proposed SSCB technology offers a programmable response time to as short as one microsecond, well within the overload-withstanding capability of power converters, and enables a distribution system-level ability to isolate a fault from the rest of the power system before renewable power generation is interrupted. Their design produces a 1000x decrease in response time and 5x reduction in cost in comparison to commercial mechanical circuit breakers. If successful, such devices could be used to help protect microgrids and enable higher penetration of renewable energy sources.

Imagen Energy LLC

1200 V SiC Based Extremely Compact, 500 kW, 2000 Hz Inverter for High Speed Permanent Magnet Synchronous Machine (PMSM) Applications

Imagen Energy will develop a silicon carbide (SiC)-based compact motor drive system to efficiently control high-power (greater than 500 kW) permanent magnet electric motors operating at extremely high speed (greater than 20,000 rpm). Imagen's design will address a major roadblock in operating electric motors at high speed, namely overcoming large back electromotive forces (BEMF). Their solution hopes to maximize the capabilities of the SiC technology and associated digital control platform, thereby bringing the overall drive system performance parameters to levels unachievable by current Si-based power conversion systems. If successful, the project team will demonstrate a motor drive capable of handling large BEMF and increase motor system efficiency over a broad range of operating speeds, a useful combination for high-speed applications in the oil and gas industry, high-speed/high-power compressors, grid-connected energy storage, and renewable energy generation.

Infineon Technologies Americas Corp.

Low Cost e-mode GaN HEMT Gate Driver IC Enables Revolutional Energy Savings in Variable Speed Drives for Appliance Motors

Infineon Technologies will develop a new, low-cost integrated circuit (IC) gate driver specifically for use with gallium nitride (GaN) high electron mobility transistor (HEMT) switches. The GaN HEMT switches would be used as a component for controlling variable speed electric motors in variable speed drives (VSDs). Electric motors, which account for about 40% of U.S. electricity consumption, can be made substantially more efficient by replacing constant speed motors with variable speed motors. Most VSDs today use silicon-based semiconductors, which are limited in performance compared to those based on wide-bandgap semiconductors like GaN. Infineon plans to integrate a cost-effective gate driver IC together with GaN HEMT switches and simple packaging to enable a cost reduction by a factor of two or three, simplified integration, and significant energy savings. If successful, the technology may drive rapid adoption of variable speed control in residential and light commercial 50-200W appliance motors from fans and pumps to refrigeration and air conditioning compressors.

Marquette University

Advanced Parallel Resonant 1MHz, 1MW, Three Phase AC to DC Ultra Fast EV Charger

Marquette University will develop a small, compact, lightweight, and efficient 1 MW battery charger for electric vehicles that will double the specific power and triple power density compared to the current state-of-the-art. The team aims to use MOSFET switches based on silicon carbide to ensure the device runs efficiently while handling very large amounts of power in a small package. If successful, the device could help to dramatically reduce charging times for electric vehicles to a matter of minutes - promoting faster adoption of electric vehicles with longer range, greater energy efficiency, and reduced range anxiety.

Northeastern University

A Universal Converter for DC, Single-phase AC, and Multi-phase AC Systems

Northeastern University will develop a new class of universal power converters that use the fast switching and high breakdown voltage properties of silicon carbide (SiC) switches to significantly reduce system weight, volume, cost, power loss, and failure rates. Northeastern's proposed 10 kW SiC based high-frequency converter topology minimizes the size of passive components that are used for power transfer, and replaces electrolytic capacitors with short lifetimes with film capacitors. The proposed universal converter can be used for transferring power from any type of source to any type of load. It can be used when the instantaneous values of input and output power do not match even without having large passive components, or increasing the number of passive components. If successful, the proposed converter and innovative control strategy has the potential to create a new paradigm in power electronics that could influence numerous applications, such as electric vehicles, wind energy systems, photovoltaic systems, industrial motor drives, residential variable frequency drive systems, and nanogrid applications.

Opcondys, Inc.

A Bidirectional, Transformerless Converter Topology for Grid-Tied Energy Storage Systems 

Opcondys will develop a high-voltage power converter design for energy storage systems connected directly to the power grid. Opcondys' converter design will use a modified switched multiplier topology that will allow connection to utility transmission lines without intervening step-up transformers. It uses a photonic, wide bandgap power switching device called the Optical Transconductance Varistor. This is a fast, high-voltage, bidirectional device which reduces the number of circuit elements required for charging and discharging the storage element. By operating at 100 kHz it is possible to increase efficiency to 99% compared to 95-98% efficiency of traditional converters. The system also reduces the size of the passive elements by 50% and, because of the optical control, mitigates electromagnetic interference issues. The elimination of step-up transformers further reduces system size, and can enable a lower cost than existing systems. If successful, project developments could open the door to increased integration of grid-level energy storage.

Switched Source LLC

Unified Power Flow Controller

Switched Source will develop a power-electronics based hardware solution to fortify electric distribution systems, with the goal of delivering cost-effective infrastructure retrofits to match rapid advancements in energy generation and consumption. The company's power flow controller will improve capabilities for routing electricity between neighboring distribution circuit feeders, so that grid operators can utilize the system as a more secure, reliable, and efficient networked platform. The topology the team is incorporating into its controller will eliminate the need for separate heavy and expensive transformers, as well as the costly construction of new distribution lines and substations in many cases. The power flow controller's low weight and small size means that it can be installed anywhere in the existing grid to optimize energy distribution and help reduce congestion. If successful, implementation of Switched Source's power flow controller will also significantly increase hosting capacity and connectivity for distributed renewable generation. During a prior ARPA-E GENI award, this team developed this platform technology. Now, as an addition to the ARPA-E CIRCUITS program, the team will further its research.

United Technologies Research Center

Power Conversion Through Novel Current Source Matrix Converter 

United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) will develop a silicon carbide-based, single stage, 15 kW direct AC-to-AC (fixed frequency AC to variable frequency AC) power converter that avoids the need for an intermediate conversion to DC or energy storage circuit elements. The team seeks to build a device that weighs about half as much as available converters while demonstrating scalability for a broad power range (from kW to tens of MW) and achieving conversion efficiencies greater than 99%. If successful, the UTRC team will produce advances that help greatly reduce energy losses in a range of industrial applications. Industrial drives for electric motors alone account for approximately 40% of total U.S. electricity demand and incorporation of highly efficient variable-frequency drives, based on this technology, can reduce energy consumption by 10-30%. For aircraft power systems, electrical actuators built using this technology can enable longer, thinner, and lighter wings that result in 50% reduced fuel consumption and carbon emissions when compared to current commercial aircraft. The project can also open new possibilities for electric locomotives and ship propulsion, thanks to the reduced weight and complexity of the converter.

United Technologies Research Center

Ultra Dense Power Converters for Advanced Electrical Systems

United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) and its project team will develop an extremely efficient power converter capable of handling kilowatts of electricity at ultra-high power densities. The team will leverage the superior performance of silicon carbide (SiC) or gallium nitride (GaN) devices to achieve its efficiency and power density goals. In the aerospace industry, electrical power distribution can begin to displace pneumatic power distribution using this technology. Efficient power conversion in aircraft will be needed as hydraulic systems, including landing gear systems, are replaced with electric actuation. Electric engine start, electric air-conditioning and cabin pressurization are also key advances in this area. One of the major objectives of the team is to halve converter loss, facilitating a transition from present liquid cooling thermal management to air cooling only. These improvements can help reduce the weight of airline electrical components, critical for the advancement of more electric aircraft. If successful, the team expects that aerospace is a good first adopter of their technology as the industry can more easily accommodate the costs and adoption of new technology better than other industrial applications.

University of Arkansas

Reliable, High Power Density Inverters for Heavy Equipment Applications

The University of Arkansas and its project team will develop a power inverter system for use in the electrification of construction equipment. Heavy equipment providers are increasingly investing in electrification capability to perform work in harsh environments. As with all electrified systems, size, weight and power considerations must be met by these systems. The team's approach is to utilize the advantages of wide bandgap semiconductors not only in the converter elements themselves, but also in the converter's gate driver as well. This innovation of having the low-voltage circuitry built from the same materials as the power devices enables higher reliability, longer life, and a more compact system packages. Their multi-objective optimization method will provide the best outcome and trade the efficiency and power density goals against circuit complexity, device ratings, thermal management, and reliability constraints. If successful, the team will achieve an improvement of four times the power density and reduce converter cost by 50% compared to today's technology. The proposed design methods and technological advances can also be applied to many applications such as electric vehicles, smart grid power electronics, and data centers.

University of California, Berkeley

Extreme Efficiency 240 Vac to Load Data Center Power Delivery Topologies and Control

The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and its project team will develop an extremely efficient AC-to-DC converter based on gallium nitride (GaN) devices for use in datacenters. Datacenters are the backbones of modern information technology and their physical size and power consumption is rapidly growing. Converters for datacenters need to be power dense and efficient to maximize the computing power per unit volume and to reduce operating costs and environmental impact. This project team seeks to develop a prototype device that converts power from a universal grid input (110-240 V at 50-60 Hz) to 48 V DC, the standard for datacenter and telecom supply. The team hopes that this GaN-based converter will enable a complete redesign of the power delivery network for future datacenters; while achieving a three-fold reduction in energy loss and 10 times improvement in power density over traditional conversion circuits. If successful, project developments will greatly reduce the amount of energy lost powering datacenters while significantly improving power capability over current converters.

University of California, Berkeley

Enabling Ultra-Compact, Lightweight, Efficient, and Reliable 6.6 kW On-Board Bi-Directional Electric Vehicle Charger with Advanced Topology and Control

The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and its project team will develop an on-board electric vehicle charger using a gallium nitride (GaN) based converter to improve power density and conversion efficiency. Conventional power converter topologies which primarily use magnetics (i.e. inductors and transformers) for energy transfer suffer from a tradeoff between efficiency and size. In this project, the team proposes a shift in traditional charger design to develop a bidirectional converter dominated by capacitor-based energy transfer. The team will leverage recent advances in GaN devices and new control techniques to produce a 6.6 kW converter with 15 times the power density and higher efficiency than currently achievable. The bidirectional flow means that the device can act to charge the electric vehicle or operate in a vehicle-to-grid manner to use the vehicle as short term energy storage. If successful, project developments could help reduce the size and complexity of electric vehicle power systems.

University of Colorado, Boulder

A High-Voltage, High-Reliability Scalable Architechture for Electric Vehicle Power Electronics 

The University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Bolder) and its project team will develop new composite SiC power converter technology that achieves high power and voltage conversion (250 VDC to 1200 VDC) in a smaller package than ever achieved due largely to improved switching dynamics and reduced need for large passive energy storage components. Also, utilizing higher system voltage in vehicular power systems has been proven to enable vehicle manufacturers to use thinner and lighter wires and improve vehicle powertrain system efficiency. The team seeks to demonstrate the power converter as an on-board, high-power, multifunctional system for both charging electric vehicles and providing power to the motor. The project will lead to experimental demonstration of a 100 kW multifunction electric vehicle power conversion system that includes integrated wired charging and wireless charging functions. If successful, the CU-Boulder team will make important progress towards reducing the size, cost, and complexity of power systems associated with electric vehicles.

University of Illinois, Chicago

Universal Battery Supercharger

The University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) will develop a new high-power converter circuit architecture for fast charging of electric vehicles (EV). Their wide-bandgap universal battery supercharger (UBS) is designed using a unique AC/DC converter system. Fast-switching silicon carbide (SiC) field-effect transistors (FETs) with integrated gate-drivers are used to achieve the targeted compactness. A novel hybrid-modulation method is used to switch the SiC-FETs to reduce the semiconductor power losses and improve the efficiency. The UBS uses integrated filters, which reduce the electromagnetic noise and system weight. The UBS circuit is reliable because it uses film capacitors instead of electrolytic capacitors that have reduced durability. The reduced weight and size of the UBS can enable both off-board stationary fast charging systems and as a portable add-on system for EV customers who require range enhancement and quick charging in 15 minutes. If successful, project developments will not only help accelerate the development of EV charging infrastructure, but the system will have bidirectional power flow capability enabling vehicle-to-grid dispatching.

University of Wisconsin

WBG-Enabled Current-Source Inverters for Integrated PM Machine Drives

The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) and its project team will develop new integrated motor drives (IMDs) using current-source inverters (CSIs). Recent advances in both silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) wide-bandgap semiconductor devices make these power switches well-suited for the selected CSI topology that the team plans to integrate into high-efficiency electric motors with spinning permanent magnets. The objective is to take advantage of the special performance characteristics of the technology to increase the penetration of variable-speed drives into heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) applications. Many of the HVAC installations in the U.S. residential and commercial sectors still use constant-speed motors even though there is a well-recognized potential for major energy savings available by converting them to variable-speed operation. If successful, the new IMDs will be capable of producing significant energy savings in a wide variety of industrial, commercial, and residential applications ranging from air conditioners to pumps and compressors.


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