Obama Administration launches $200M competition for three new manufacturing innovation institutes; WBG power electronics, lightweight metals and digital manufacturing
The Obama Administration is launching competitions to create three new manufacturing innovation institutes with a Federal commitment of $200 million across five Federal agencies: Defense, Energy, Commerce, NASA, and the National Science Foundation. The effort is part of President Obama’s proposed $1-billion investment to create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation institutes across the country. (Earlier post.)
The Department of Energy will lead one of the new institutes on “Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing” for wide bandgap semiconductors such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) (DE-FOA-0000683). The Department of Defense will lead the other two, focused on “Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing” and “Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation”.
All three institutes will be selected through an open, competitive process, led by the Departments of Energy and Defense, with review from a multi-agency team of technical experts. Winning teams will be selected and announced later this year. Federal funds will be matched by industry co-investment, support from state and local governments, and other sources.
In August 2012, the Administration announced the winner of an initial $30-million Federal award to create a pilot institute, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). Like NAMII, the three new institutes are expected to become financially self-sustaining, and the plan to achieve this objective will be a critical evaluation criterion in the selection process. DOD and DOE are opening the competition for the three new institutes immediately.
Next Generation Power Electronics. Wide bandgap semiconductor-based power electronic devices (WBG) represent the next major platform beyond the silicon-based devices that have driven major technological advances in the economy over the last several decades.
WBG semiconductors permit devices to operate at much higher temperatures, voltages, and frequencies, making the power electronic modules using these materials significantly more powerful and energy efficient than those made from conventional semiconductor materials.
In electronic devices, WBG semiconductors can eliminate up to 90% of the power losses that currently occur during AC-to-DC and DC-to-AC electricity conversion, and they can handle voltages more than 10 times higher than Si-based devices, greatly enhancing performance in high-power applications. Applied in an EV, WBG materials could cut electricity losses by 66% during vehicle battery recharging, the DOE says. They also offer greater efficiency in converting AC to DC power and in operating the electric traction drive during vehicle use.
The WBG materials can operate at temperatures above 300 °C (twice the maximum temperature of Si-based devices). This tolerance for higher operating temperature results in better overall system reliability, enables smaller and lighter systems with reduced lifecycle energy use, and creates opportunities for new applications.
Wide bandgap technology will thus enable significantly more compact and efficient power electronic devices for electric vehicles, renewable power interconnection, industrial-scale variable speed drive motors and a smarter more flexible grid; in addition to high-performance defense applications (e.g. reducing the size of a sub-station to a suit case).
However, WBG manufacturing faces a number of challenges, including substrate size and cost, device design and cost, and systems integration.
The focus of an Institute in WBG semiconductor power electronics for device fabrication and manufacturing will require circuit design, packaging, and module manufacturing capabilities as well as wafer test metrology equipment to verify wafer quality throughout the photolithographic and chemical processing steps. Furthermore, the development of standard packaging technologies, modeling, and lifetime reliability studies, as well as a centralized testing capability for devices will reduce the need for duplicative capital investments from users. As such, an Institute should offer in-house design capabilities for users, as well as common fabrication and testing equipment for the community.
The Institute is also envisioned to initiate and establish long-term device and system reliability testing, including simulation and modeling capabilities, to identify and couple failure mechanisms to device- and systems-level performance, as well as to benchmark and develop both testing and performance standards for the industry as a whole and the operational requirements necessary for the relevant applications, including electric drive vehicles, solar, and wind power conversion.—DE-FOA-0000683
Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing. (LM3I) Advanced lightweight metals possess mechanical and electrical properties comparable to traditional materials while enabling much lighter components and products. The institute will scale up research to accelerate market expansion for products such as wind turbines, medical devices, engines, armored combat vehicles, and airframes, and to deliver significant reductions in manufacturing and energy costs.
Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DMDI). Advanced design and manufacturing tools that are digitally integrated and networked with supply chains can enable an agile US industrial base with significant speed to market advantage.The institute will focus on the development of novel model-based design methodologies, virtual manufacturing tools, and sensor- and robotics-based manufacturing networks.