20 kV Gallium Nitride pn Diode Electro-Magnetic Pulse Arrestor for Grid Reliability

Default ARPA-E Project Image

OPEN 2018
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Project Term:
07/11/2019 - 07/10/2023

Critical Need:

Electro-magnetic pulses (EMPs) produced by high-altitude nuclear explosions and/or low-frequency geo-magnetic disturbances (GMDs) produced by large solar storms could cause blackouts and severe grid damage over a large part of the country. Such events would be catastrophic since all other critical infrastructure (water, food, transportation, communications, finance) depend on an operational electrical grid. Widespread power failure could endanger millions of people and cost potentially billions of dollars to restore the grid. Today’s electric grid has passive and active protection schemes designed to enhance its resiliency against a variety of operational failure modes. However, while EMP filters exist for low-voltage circuit applications like power strips, no such devices exist for the high-voltage and current levels required for grid applications. Further, today’s grid-protection devices do not respond quickly enough to effectively deal with the fastest EMP-induced voltage and current transients (surges), which occur on the order of nanoseconds (ns).

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Sandia National Laboratories will develop a new device to prevent EMP damage to the power grid. The EMP arrestor will be comprised of diodes fabricated from the semiconductor gallium nitride (GaN), capable of responding on the ns timescale required to protect the grid against EMP threats. The diodes will be capable of blocking 20 kilovolts (kV), enabling a single device to protect distribution-level equipment on the grid. The team will focus on the epitaxial crystal growth of GaN layers and device design needed to achieve the 20 kV performance target. Extensive failure analysis and reliability testing will be conducted to ensure device robustness. At the end of the project, a prototype arrestor will be demonstrated to illustrate the feasibility of the technology to protect against catastrophic damage to grid equipment due to EMPs. In addition, the team will create a pilot production line to serve as a model for eventual commercial production.

Potential Impact:

This project will develop EMP devices for the high voltage and current levels required for grid applications.


The technology will protect the U.S. grid from catastrophic damage due to EMP events.


This project could establish the viability of GaN for extreme-voltage applications for the grid and beyond, improving energy efficiency and reducing some of the harmful emissions created by coal-fired power plants.


A pilot vertical GaN foundry will lay the foundation for volume manufacturing and decrease the cost of the EMP arrestor and vertical GaN devices generally.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Isik Kizilyalli
Project Contact:
Robert Kaplar
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Sonrisa Research, Inc.
US Naval Research Laboratory
Stanford University

Related Projects

Release Date: