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ARPA-E Awards $30M To Develop Better Power Converters

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CIRCUITS program to focus on topologies and system designs that maximise benefits of wide bandgap semiconductors

The US Department of Energy's (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has announced $30 million in funding for 21 innovative projects as part of the Creating Innovative and Reliable Circuits Using Inventive Topologies and Semiconductors (CIRCUITS) program.

The program will use power converters based on wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor technology like SiC or GaN to accelerate the development and deployment of innovative electric power converters that save energy.

Previous efforts by ARPA-E have focused primarily on WBG material and device development. CIRCUITS focuses on new circuit topologies and system designs, ensuring the performance benefits of these new WBG devices are maximised.

"Hardware built with WBG devices has the potential to be smaller, lighter, and much more energy-efficient, with applications across valuable sectors including transportation, information technology, the grid, and consumer electronics," said ARPA-E Acting Director Eric Rohlfing. "Developments from CIRCUITS projects could one day lead to super-fast, compact electric vehicle chargers, more efficient ship propulsion systems, and lighter, aerodynamic aircraft that can carry more passengers with less fuel."

Examples of selected CIRCUITS projects include Imagen Energy, which received $847,888 to develop a SiC-based compact motor drive system to efficiently control high power (greater than 500 kW), high performance permanent magnet electric motors operating at extremely high speed (greater than 20,000 rpm). Imagen Energy's design seeks to address a major roadblock in operating electric motors at high speed, namely overcoming large back electromotive forces (BEMF). If successful, the project team will demonstrate a motor drive capable of handling large BEMF and increase motor system efficiency over a broad range of operating speeds.

The University of Arkansas has received $2,163,630 to develop a 2 by 250 kW power inverter system for use in the electrification of heavy equipment and other higher volume transportation applications (e.g., trucks, buses, cars). The team will use SiC power electronics devices to achieve high levels of efficiency while greatly increasing the volumetric and gravimetric power density of its system over existing ones. If successful, the team will achieve an improvement of four times the power density and reduce converter cost by 50 percent compared to today's technology.



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