14 December 2010

DOE grants $3.9m for SiC HEV charger development

A $3.9m award from the US Department of Energy (DOE) aims to allow electrical engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas to continue contributing to the development of a compact and highly efficient silicon carbide (SiC) battery charger for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). Benefits of the project extend beyond vehicles into other areas, such as wind and solar power, and could also lead to reduced energy consumption.

The grant is part of the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program and will benefit a collaborative partnership that includes five private and public entities: project leader Arkansas Power Electronics International Inc (APEI) of Fayetteville, AK; its private partner the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission (at the University of Arkansas); Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); Cree Inc; and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc.

“This effort will lead to breakthroughs in efficiency, size and weight reduction, and overall improved vehicle performance,” believes Department of Electrical Engineering professor Alan Mantooth, director of the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission (who holds the 21st Century Endowed Chair in Mixed-Signal IC Design and CAD).

Under Mantooth’s direction, the Arkansas researchers will develop basic semiconductor device models to enable other researchers to design integrated circuitry. The work will help engineers simulate circuits on computers to verify functionality before committing to fabrication. As part of the overall project, the researchers will also design key components of the charging circuitry.

Since 2009, the DOE has allocated nearly $350m to universities, small and large businesses, national labs and non-profit groups to support research that can change how the USA generates, stores and uses energy. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the funding is intended to create jobs and foster economic growth. “These innovative ideas will play a critical role in our energy security and economic growth,” says US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “It is now more important than ever to invest in a new, clean energy economy,” he adds.

“The award was highly competitive, and we look forward to delivering on the challenges in this groundbreaking project,” says Serdar Yonak, Toyota’s US power electronics R&D manager.

“This technology will help reduce energy consumption in everyday applications, such as personal vehicles,” says APEI’s director of business development Ty McNutt. “In addition, it will reduce the strain on the nation’s power grid as electric vehicles become prevalent, while helping to decrease the nation’s carbon footprint. Equally as important, the engineering and manufacturing jobs created by this award will remain in America,” he adds.

“Cree has been leading the development of the silicon carbide power components at the heart of this proposed system,” says John Palmour, Cree’s chief technology officer for power and radio frequency. “We are hopeful that this demonstration will lead to the use of silicon carbide power devices in the electric motor drives themselves, creating even more efficiency gains for hybrid vehicles.”

The National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission is one of just a few university-based research centers chosen by the DOE to investigate electronic systems to make the USA’s power grid more reliable and efficient. Five years ago, the DOE funded the center because of the university’s research expertise in advanced power electronics and longtime investigation of silicon carbide. Electrical engineering researchers at the university have developed and packaged SiC systems for more than a decade and recently won an R&D 100 Award, in collaboration with APEI, for the first 250ºC-capable power module rated at 1200V and 150A.

Tags: SiC HEV

Visit: www.engr.uark.edu

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