$27m for transformational grid technologies in U.S.


The U.S. Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded $27 million in funding for 14 projects aimed at developing next generation power conversion devices that could dramatically transform how power is controlled and converted throughout the grid.

These projects, selected under ARPA-E’s SWITCHES (Strategies for Wide-Bandgap, Inexpensive Transistors for Controlling High-Efficiency Systems) program, aim to find innovative ways to lower the cost and improve the efficiency of power electronics.

Specifically the projects are creating innovative new wide-bandgap semiconductor materials, device architectures, and fabrication processes to enable increased energy density and switching frequencies, enhanced temperature control, and reduced power losses in a range of power electronics applications for electric motor drives and power switching devices for the grid.

“In order to transform America’s energy infrastructure, we will need innovative technology options that can radically improve how we convert and use electricity,” said ARPA-E deputy director Cheryl Martin. “The low cost power electronic projects ARPA-E announced could result in some of the critical components needed to update our aging infrastructure and reduce power losses from the grid.”

The 14 projects selected for the SWITCHES program are performing their research at a combination of universities, businesses, and national labs. For example, the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) will receive $3 million to develop several new vertical gallium nitride semiconductor technologies that will enhance the performance and reduce the cost of high-power electronics. UCSB’s devices could reduce power losses to enable high power conversion at low cost in motor drives, electric vehicles, and power grid applications.

Eight of the 14 SWITCHES projects are small businesses being funded through ARPA-E’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. For example, MicroLink Devices, a company located in Niles, Illinois, will receive $1.7 million to engineer affordable, high performance transistors needed for power conversion. Currently, high performance power transistors are prohibitively expensive because they are grown on expensive gallium nitride semiconductor wafers. In conventional manufacturing processes, this expensive wafer is permanently attached to the transistor, so the wafer can only be used once. MicroLink Devices will develop an innovative method to remove the transistor structure from the wafer without damaging any components, enabling wafer reuse while significantly reducing costs.

The full list of projects is available HERE.