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Universal Converter for AC Systems

Northeastern University

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

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$628,203
Location: 
Boston, MA
Project Term: 
12/21/2017 to 12/20/2020
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Electricity generation currently accounts for ~40% of primary energy consumption in the U.S. and continues to be the fastest growing form of end-use energy. Power electronics condition, control, and convert electrical power in order to provide optimal conditions for transmission, distribution, and load-side consumption. Most of today's power electronics have limitations to their performance, temperature resilience, and size due to the circuit topology and semiconductor power devices used. Emerging semiconductor devices such as those based on wide-bandgap materials -- along with transformative advances in circuit design and system architecture -- present opportunities to dramatically improve power converter performance while reducing size and weight. Development of advanced power electronics with unprecedented functionality, efficiency, reliability, and form factor will help provide the U.S. a critical technological advantage in an increasingly electrified world economy.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

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.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, CIRCUITS projects will enable further development of a new class of power converters suitable for a broad range of applications including motor drives for heavy equipment and consumer appliances, electric vehicle battery charging, high-performance computer data centers, grid applications for stability and resilience, and emerging electric propulsion systems.

Security: 

More robust power electronics that withstand higher operating temperatures, have increased durability, a smaller form factor, and higher efficiency will significantly improve the reliability and security of a resilient electrical grid. 

Environment: 

Low cost and highly efficient power electronics could lead to more affordable electric and hybrid-electric transportation, greater integration of renewable power sources, and higher efficiency electric motors for use in heavy industries and consumer applications.

Economy: 

Electricity is the fastest growing form of end-use energy in the United States. High performance, low cost power electronics would enable significant efficiency gains across the economy, reducing energy costs for businesses and families.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Isik Kizilyalli
Project Contact: 
Dr. Mahshid Amirabadi
Release Date: 
8/23/2017