DOE funds innovation of medium voltage grid


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced $35 million in funding for twelve projects that explore ways to harness medium-voltage electricity for applications in the power grid, industry, transportation and other areas.

The projects are part of ARPA-E’s Building Reliable Electronics to Achieve Kilovolt Effective Ratings Safely (BREAKERS) program and development of the latest OPEN+ cohort, Kilovolt Devices.

The latest funding announcement follows the recent allocation of US$42 million in project funding for renewable energy projects in the country.

“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,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said. “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 aim to develop new direct current (DC) devices to improve power management through improved efficiency and the increased adoption of storage and distributed energy resources.

The Kilovolt Devices OPEN+ projects aim to solve challenges in power electronics in the medium-voltage space, with a focus on grid security and reliability.

The DOE noted the hiDC electricity can provide higher power carrying capacity and lower distribution losses. BREAKERS projects aim to develop DC devices that prevent electric arcing while handling large amounts of power and voltage.

BREAKERS projects include:

• Ultra-Efficient Intelligent MVDC Hybrid Circuit Breaker. Drexel University intends designing a significantly more efficient, high-speed, low-cost and compact circuit breaker for medium-voltage direct-current (MVDC) power systems. The breaker is designed to protect medium-voltage systems from electrical faults with a response time of 500μs.

• DC Wide Bandgap Static Circuit Breaker. Eaton Corp will develop a silicone carbide-based direct-current circuit breaker design capable of variable scale medium-voltage application requirements. The design will also effectively dissipate excess energy and autonomously coordinate fault protection across multiple devices. Results are envisioned to include future ultra-wide-bandgap power semiconductor devices and other advances affecting future generations of devices and power electronics.

• Ultra-Fast Resonant DC Breaker: Marquette University will develop 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: Ohio State University will develop a low-cost, low-weight MVDC circuit breaker that enables simpler manufacturing, increased reliability, functionality, efficiency and power density.

• ARC-SAFE: Accelerated Response semiconducting Contactors and Surge Attenuation for DC Electrical systems: Sandia National Laboratories will develop a solid-state circuit breaker for medium-to-high-voltage applications based on silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN).

The OPEN+ Kilovolt Devices projects include:

• Advanced Medium Voltage SiC-SJ FETs with Ultra-Low On-Resistance: GE Global Research will develop a device for the first high-voltage silicon-carbide super-junction field-effect transistors, which will provide highly efficient power conversion (e.g. from direct to alternating current) in MV applications including renewables like solar, wind power and transportation. The transistors will scale to high voltage while offering up to 10 times lower losses compared with commercial silicon-based transistors.

• GaN MOCVD Growth on Native Substrates for High Voltage (15-20kV) Vertical Power Devices: Ohio State University will develop GaN materials suitable for high-voltage (15-20 kV) power control and conversion whilst also working on a unique method to grow thick GaN films with low contamination, necessary to allow high-voltage operation with high efficiency.

• 20kV Gallium Nitride pn Diode Electro-Magnetic Pulse Arrestor for Grid Reliability: Sandia National Laboratories are developing a 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.

• 20kV GaN Switch Technology Demonstrated in High-Efficiency Medium-Voltage Building Block: Virginia Tech are looking to accelerate deployment of power electronics into grid-scale energy applications by developing 20kV GaN devices integrated into a medium-voltage power module.