President Obama announces new $140M public-private manufacturing innovation institute focused on power electronics
President Obama announced the selection of a consortium of businesses and universities, led by North Carolina State University, to lead a manufacturing innovation institute for next-generation power electronics. (Earlier post.)
More specifically, the Next Generation Power Electronics Institute is focused on making wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor technologies cost-competitive with current silicon-based power electronics in the next five years. Compared to silicon-based technologies, wide bandgap semiconductors can operate at higher temperatures and have greater durability and reliability at higher voltages and frequencies—ultimately achieving higher performance while using less electricity.
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 could 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).
The winning team, led by North Carolina State University, brings together a consortium of leading companies that included some of the world’s leading wide band gap semiconductor manufacturers, leading materials providers, and critical end-users such as John Deere and Delphi with universities. The Department of Energy is awarding $70 million over five years, matched by at least $70 million in non-federal commitments by the winning team of businesses and universities, along with the state of North Carolina.
The DOE-supported manufacturing innovation institute’s headquarters will be located on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. The university will also host some of the institute’s shared research and development facilities and testing equipment, as well as workforce development and education programs.
The institute will provide shared facilities, equipment, and testing and modeling capabilities to companies across the power electronics supply chain, particularly small and medium-size manufacturers, to help invent, design and manufacture new semiconductor chips and devices. The institute will also pair chip designers and manufacturers with large power electronic manufacturers and suppliers, such as John Deere and Delphi, to bring these technologies to market faster and will offer training, higher education programs and hands-on internships.
The winning consortium, led by North Carolina State University and headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, includes the State of North Carolina and:
18 Companies: ABB; APEI; Avogy; Cree; Delphi; Delta Products; DfR Solutions; Gridbridge; Hesse Mechantronics; II-VI; IQE; John Deere; Monolith Semiconductor; RF Micro Devices; Toshiba International; Transphorm; USCi; and Vacon.
7 Universities and Labs: North Carolina State [Lead]; Arizona State University; Florida State University; University of California at Santa Barbara; Virginia Polytechnic Institute; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and US Naval Research Laboratory.
In last year’s State of the Union address, the President proposed a series of three new manufacturing institutes that the Administration can create using existing resources—this is the first of those institutes. In May, the Obama Administration launched a competition for these 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, building off the success of a pilot institute headquartered in Youngstown, Ohio.
The additional two institutes led by the Department of Defense—focused on Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation and Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing—are still in the selection process and will be awarded in the coming weeks.
Each institute is designed to serve as a regional hub designed to bridge the gap between applied research and product development, bringing together companies, universities and other academic and training institutions, and Federal agencies to co-invest in technology areas that encourage investment and production in the US.