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8 February 2019

US DOE’s ARPA-E awards $35m to 12 new projects to support medium-voltage devices for grid, industry and transportation

The US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded $35m in funding for 12 projects seeking new ways to harness medium-voltage electricity for applications in industry, transportation, on the grid and beyond. The selected projects are part of ARPA-E’s program ‘Building Reliable Electronics to Achieve Kilovolt Effective Ratings Safely’ (BREAKERS), as well as the latest OPEN+ cohort ‘Kilovolt Devices’.

“America’s energy landscape is constantly evolving, and as new ways to generate and distribute power gain popularity, it’s critical we develop the tools to maximize their utility,” comments US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “These ARPA‑E projects serve first and foremost to modernize how we move power around safely, reliably and efficiently, creating a new set of capabilities for tomorrow’s utilities and industry.”

The eight BREAKERS projects will work to develop new direct current (DC) devices to better manage power by eliminating electrical faults, improving efficiency and reaction times, and potentially enabling greater proliferation of energy storage and renewable resources.

The four Kilovolt Devices OPEN+ projects will focus on challenges facing power electronics in the medium-voltage space, with a particular eye toward grid security and reliability.

Existing power distribution networks are primarily powered by alternating current (AC) electricity, but DC can provide lower distribution losses and higher power-carrying capacity. BREAKERS projects will develop DC devices that prevent electric arcing, a safety hazard, while handling large amounts of power and voltage.

It is reckoned that medium-voltage DC circuit breakers could enable significant improvements in the USA’s electrical system, transforming how electricity is delivered and managed across the entire power grid, as well as critical applications in industry, transportation and resource production.

BREAKERS projects include:

  • Ultra-Efficient Intelligent MVDC Hybrid Circuit Breaker ($4,413,913). Drexel University aims to design a significantly more efficient, fast, low-cost, compact, and reliable circuit breaker for medium-voltage direct-current (MVDC) power system. The breaker is designed to protect MVDC systems from electrical faults and expected to respond in 500μs. Drexel hence proposes a solid-state circuit breaker based on silicon carbide (SiC) devices that aims to significantly improve breaker performance for the MVDC ecosystem.
  • DC Wide Bandgap Static Circuit Breaker ($3,760,000). Eaton Corp will develop a SiC-based direct-current circuit breaker design that boosts efficiency and can scale up or down medium-voltage application requirements. The comprehensive approach includes a robust design that effectively dissipates excess energy and autonomously coordinates fault protection across multiple devices. Results will extend to future ultra-wide-bandgap power semiconductor devices and other advances affecting future generations of devices and power electronics.
  • Ultra-Fast Resonant DC Breaker ($500,000). Marquette University will develop a DC breaker combining the advantages of a vacuum interrupter with a wide-bandgap-based resonant current source and novel actuator topology. The proposed solution represents a transformational DC breaker scalable across voltage and current in medium-voltage DC applications, such as power distribution, solar, wind, and electric vehicles.
  • T-Type Modular DC Circuit Breaker (T-Breaker) for Future DC Networks ($2,309,950). Ohio State University will develop a MVDC circuit breaker prototype based on a modular design using SiC modules to reduce cost and weight while enabling simpler manufacturing, increased reliability, functionality, efficiency and power density. The modular structure will be self-sustaining and allow for inherent scalability while providing possibilities for multiple ancillary functions.
  • ARC-SAFE: Accelerated Response semiconducting Contactors and Surge Attenuation for DC Electrical systems ($2,250,000). Sandia National Laboratories will develop a solid-state circuit breaker for medium-to-high-voltage applications using switches based on the wide-bandgap semiconductors silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN). The concept builds on Sandia’s knowledge of optically triggered GaN devices, as well as the team’s experience in circuit design for medium-voltage (MV) applications. Sandia will build a prototype breaker to demonstrate a fast response time using a photoconductive switch that is potentially scalable from 1kV to 100kV for DC systems. This technology could contribute to more widespread adoption of MVDC power distribution across the grid.

The OPEN+ Kilovolt Devices projects include:

  • Advanced Medium Voltage SiC-SJ FETs with Ultra-Low On-Resistance ($3,090,746). GE Global Research will develop a device architecture for the first high-voltage SiC super-junction (SJ) field-effect transistors, which will provide highly efficient power conversion (such as from direct to alternating current) in medium-voltage applications, including renewables like solar and wind power, as well as transportation. The transistors will scale to high voltage while offering up to 10 times lower losses compared with commercial silicon-based transistors available today.
  • GaN MOCVD Growth on Native Substrates for High Voltage (15-20kV) Vertical Power Devices ($2,211,712). Ohio State University will develop GaN materials suitable for high-voltage (15-20 kV) power control and conversion. The team will develop a unique method to grow thick GaN films with low background impurity contamination, necessary to allow high-voltage operation with high efficiency. The thick GaN layers will be deposited on high-quality bulk GaN base materials with reduced defects, critical to depositing high-quality GaN films on top, and perform high-voltage device design, fabrication and testing to provide feedback for further GaN material growth and optimization.
  • 20kV Gallium Nitride pn Diode Electro-Magnetic Pulse Arrestor for Grid Reliability ($5,415,000). Sandia National Laboratories will develop a new device to prevent damage to the power grid caused by electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The EMP arrestor will comprise diodes fabricated from GaN, capable of responding on the nanosecond timescale required to protect the grid against EMP threats. It will be capable of blocking 20kV, enabling a single device to protect distribution-level equipment on the grid. The team will focus on GaN crystal growth and device design to achieve the 20kV performance target. It will also create a pilot production line to serve as a model for eventual commercial production.
  • 20kV GaN Switch Technology Demonstrated in High-Efficiency Medium-Voltage Building Block ($3,000,000). Virginia Tech will accelerate deployment of power electronics into grid-scale energy applications by developing 20kV GaN devices integrated into a medium-voltage power module. High-quality substrates and innovative growth techniques will be used to reduce the background impurity contamination in the thick layers needed to block 20kV. The power module will be fabricated using 3D packaging for improved thermal management and high power density at 20kV. The module will enable the full potential of high-voltage, high-temperature and fast-switching GaN devices in medium-voltage power converters for use in renewable energy grid-level applications and transportation.

See related items:

ARPA-E awards $30m for 21 projects as part of CIRCUITS program

US DOE awards $27m ARPA-E funding to 14 new 'SWITCHES' projects

Tags:  GaN power transistor SiC power devices GaN substrates

Visit:  https://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=arpa-e-programs/breakers

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