29 September 2010


ARPA-E awards GeneSiC $2.53m for development of SiC thyristor-based devices

The US Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) has entered into a cooperative agreement a team led by GeneSiC Semiconductor Inc of Dulles, VA, USA towards the development of ultra-high-voltage silicon carbide (SiC) thyristor-based devices, which are expected to be key enablers for integrating large-scale wind and solar power plants into the next-generation smart grid.

Strategically located near Washington DC, GeneSiC develops SiC-based devices for high-voltage, high-frequency SiC devices for power grid, pulsed power and directed energy weapons, as well as high-temperature SiC power devices for aircraft actuators and oil exploration. Development projects include high-temperature rectifiers, SuperJunction Transistors (SJT) and a wide variety of thyristor-based devices. GeneSiC has currently or has had prime/sub-contracts from US Government agencies including the Department of Energy, Navy, Army, DARPA, and the Department of Homeland Security.

“This highly competitive award to GeneSiC will allow us to extend our technical leadership position in multi-kV silicon carbide technology, as well as our commitment to grid-scale alternative energy solutions with solid-state solutions,” believes president Dr Ranbir Singh. “Multi-kV SiC thyristors we’re developing are the key enabling technology towards the realization of Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS) elements and High Voltage DC (HVDC) architectures envisaged towards an integrated, efficient, smart grid of the future,” he adds. “GeneSiC’s SiC-based thyristors offer 10 times higher voltage, 100 times faster switching frequencies and higher-temperature operation in FACTS and HVDC power processing solutions as compared to conventional silicon-based thyristors.”

In April, GeneSiC responded to the Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT) solicitation from ARPA-E that sought to invest in materials for fundamental advances in high-voltage switches that has the potential to leapfrog existing power converter performance while offering reductions in cost. The firm’s proposal ‘Silicon Carbide Anode Switched Thyristor for medium voltage power conversion’ was selected to provide a lightweight, solid-state, medium-voltage energy conversion for high-power applications such as solid-state electrical substations and wind turbine generators. Deploying these advanced power semiconductor technologies could provide a reduction in electricity consumption of as much as 25–30% through increased efficiencies in delivery of electrical power, says GeneSiC.

Ultra-high-voltage (>10kV) SiC device technology will play a revolutionary role in the next-generation utility grid, believes GeneSiC. Thyristor-based SiC devices offer the highest on-state performance for >5kV devices, and are widely applicable to medium-voltage power conversion circuits such as fault-current limiters, AC–DC converters, static VAR compensators and series compensators, adds the firm. SiC-based thyristors also offer the best chance of early adoption due to their similarities to conventional power grid elements. Other promising applications and advantages for the devices include:

  • power-management and power-conditioning systems for medium-voltage DC conversion sought under Future Naval Capability (FNC) of US Navy, electro-magnetic launch systems, high-energy weapon systems and medical imaging (the 10–100x higher operating frequency capability allows unprecedented improvements in size, weight, volume and, ultimately, cost of such systems, says GeneSiC); and
  • a variety of energy storage, high-temperature and high-energy physics applications (energy storage and power grid applications are receiving increasing attention as the world focuses on more efficient and cost-effective energy-management solutions).

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