Plasma-Based Electrical Transformers

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OPEN 2015
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Project Term:
05/02/2016 - 08/29/2017

Critical Need:

Much of the nation’s most abundant renewable resources exist far from urban areas where electricity demand is highest, and long-distance power transmission could enable increased use of solar and wind power. However, the current transmission system is built on an alternating current (AC) power network that is not ideal for long-distance power transmission. High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) offers advantages for high efficiency, long distance transmission for both above ground and offshore applications. HVDC systems are attractive for collecting electricity from offshore wind farms, since undersea AC transmission cables require a charging current to feed the cable, which adds to the cost of transmission and limits the practical length of cables that can be used. For above ground applications, very long distance power transmission (hundreds of miles) with HVDC can offer lower costs than AC, but the current cost of HVDC converters is too high for wide deployment of HVDC even at long distances. Realizing the advantages of marrying expanded HVDC power transmission with the existing AC power grid will require AC to DC converters or transformers that are both highly efficient and cost-effective.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Tibbar Technologies will develop plasma-based AC to DC converters for a variety of applications, including DC power for commercial buildings and for High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) electrical transmission. A plasma is created when a gas absorbs enough energy to separate the electrons from the nuclei, making it susceptible to electric and magnetic fields. In this project the team will develop a converter based principally on a single plasma component, rather than a system of capacitors and semiconductor switches. The concept is based on a recently discovered plasma configuration that utilizes helical electrodes along the perimeter of the plasma chamber to induce a current along the axis of the plasma. The current induced along the axis produces an output voltage and current at the ends of the plasma chamber, which enables efficient conversion of AC to DC or DC to DC. The project team seeks to develop a robust, economical plasma device to convert 3-phase AC to high quality DC. These devices have the potential to be half the cost and yield power densities 10x higher than state-of-the-art converters, and have the potential to significantly improve electrical use efficiencies in power transmission, distribution, micro-grids, datacenters, and in large, electrified platforms for transportation such as ships and trains.

Potential Impact:

If successful, innovations from this project may revolutionize AC to DC converters for numerous applications, including commercial buildings, transportation, and HVDC transmission.


Advanced AC to DC converters would enable more renewable energy to be transmitted longer distances, increasing the reliability and resiliency of the grid.


Increased access to renewables will reduce our use of fossil fuels for electricity generation and their associated greenhouse gas emissions.


Tibbar’s plasma-based technology could dramatically reduce the system footprint and cost for large, high power AC to DC converters.


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

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