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Keeping It Cool With Power Electronics


NREL reveals latest research projects in sustainable aviation, grid storage, and energy-efficient computing

NREL has announced that it is partnering on a series of new research projects in sustainable aviation, grid storage, and energy-efficient computing with support from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) programs, .

“Our team is collaborating with industry partners, such as General Electric, Cummins, BorgWarner, and John Deere, to optimise the thermal performance of power-dense wide band gap (WBG) inverters and electric motors,” said NREL senior researcher Sreekant Narumanchi. “The lighter overall weight, footprint, and improved performance of these designs offer clear benefits to fuel efficiency and operating costs for electrified mobility applications.”

An ongoing ARPA-E collaboration with Stanford University is “Exploring the Limits of Cooling for Extreme Heat Flux Applications,” with improved chip thermal management for data centres and power electronics. Stanford University researchers are developing a novel cooling technology, the Extreme Heat Flux Micro- (EHFμ-) Cooler, supported by NREL’s experimental reliability evaluation of the thermal management technologies. The EHFμ-Cooler significantly reduces device temperature, resulting in heat flux dissipation over 1,000 W/cm2 to cool the device.

NREL’s thermal management research also includes two projects within the ARPA-E Aviation-class Synergistically Cooled Electric-motors with iNtegrated Drivers (ASCEND) program to support the development of innovative lightweight and ultra-efficient electric motors, motor drives, and thermal management systems for sustainable aviation.

The first project, led by the General Electric Global Research centre, will design a 2-MW fully integrated all-electric aircraft powertrain and demonstrate a 350-kW lab-scale prototype to enable zero carbon emission narrow-body commercial aircraft with all-electric propulsion. The second project, led by Marquette University, focuses specifically on building a high-power-density motor for aviation propulsion. NREL’s support for these projects includes thermal management modeling, analysis, and characterization of the advanced cooling concepts and inverter components, alongside thermomechanical design and techno-economic analysis for various power electronics, electric motor, and integrated electric drive components.

ARPA-E recently selected three new projects backed by NREL expertise. 'Bringing Three-Dimensional Packaging and Thermal Management to Power Electronics', led by Synteris, will include NREL research to improve the thermal management, power density, performance, and lifetime of ceramic packaging for power electronic modules. 'Repurposing Infrastructure for Gravity Storage Using Underground Potential Energy', led by NREL, will use electromechanical system-level modeling to determine drivetrain component sizing to convert inactive oil and gas wells into energy storage devices. 'Substation in a Cable for Adaptable, Low-Cost Electrical Distribution (SCALED)', led by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, will include NREL thermal management research to develop compact, high-performance power electronics components in the context of grid applications.

“Each of these projects involve exciting new collaborations with industry and university partners—as well as collaborations across groups at NREL—to develop pioneering power modules, packages, converters, and drivetrain components impacting multiple energy efficiency and renewable energy applications,” Narumanchi said.

Pictured above is NREL researcher Gilbert Moreno preparing experiments on the dielectric fluid loop to evaluate heat transfer of electrical system component. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL)

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