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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.