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22 October 2013

US DOE awards $27m ARPA-E funding to 14 new 'SWITCHES' projects

ARPA-E deputy director Cheryl Martin has announced $27m in funding from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for 14 projects aimed at developing next-generation power conversion devices that could transform how power is controlled and converted throughout the grid. Selected under ARPA-E’s SWITCHES program (‘Strategies for Wide-Bandgap, Inexpensive Transistors for Controlling High-Efficiency Systems’), the projects aim to find innovative ways to lower the cost and improve the efficiency of power electronics.

In modern energy infrastructure, existing power electronics are based on decades-old technology and rely on expensive, bulky and failure-prone components. To address these inefficiencies, SWITCHES seeks to lower the cost and improve the energy efficiency of power switching devices (e.g. to control or convert electricy from high voltage to low voltage in laptops and electric motors, and - on a large scale - to connect solar panels and wind turbines to the grid, to operate industrial equipment such as elevators and HV/AC systems, and to run electric and hybrid-electric vehicles).

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

ARPA-E says that its SWITCHES projects are creating 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.

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 $3m to develop several new vertical gallium nitride (GaN) 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 of Niles, IL will receive $1.7m to engineer affordable, high-performance transistors needed for power conversion. Currently, high-performance power transistors are prohibitively expensive because they are grown on expensive GaN wafers. In conventional manufacturing processes, the wafer is permanently attached to the transistor, so the wafer can only be used once. MicroLink will develop an innovative method to remove the transistor structure from the wafer without damaging any components, enabling wafer reuse while significantly reducing costs.

In detail, the eight SBIR/STTR SWITCHES project awards are as follows:

  • $1,725,000 to Avogy Inc for ‘Vertical GaN Transistors on Bulk GaN Substrates’;
  • $1,425,000 to Fairfield Crystal Technology for ‘High Quality, Low-Cost GaN Single Crystal Substrates for High Power Devices’;
  • $793,477 to iBeam Materials Inc for ‘Epitaxial GaN on Flexible Metal Tapes for Low-Cost Transistor Devices’;
  • $3,224,993 to Kyma Technologies Inc for ‘High Quality, Low Cost GaN Substrate Technology’;
  • $1,725,000 to MicroLink Devices for ‘Vertical-Junction Field-Effect Transistors Fabricated on Low-Dislocation-Density GaN by Epitaxial Lift-Off’;
  • $3,224,845 to Monolith Semiconductor Inc for ‘Advanced Manufacturing and Performance Enhancements for Reduced Cost Silicon Carbide MOSFETs’;
  • $1,725,000 to SixPoint Materials Inc for ‘GaN Homoepitaxial Wafers by Vapor Phase Epitaxy on Low-Cost, High-Quality Ammonothermal GaN Substrates’; and
  • $225,000 to Soraa Inc for ‘Large Area, Low-Cost Bulk GaN Substrates for Power Electronics’.

The six non-SBIR SWITCHES project awards are as follows:

  • $420,434 to Arizona State University for ‘Diamond Power Transistors Enabled by Phosphorus Doped Diamond’;
  • $3,000,000 to Columbia University for ‘Vertical GaN Power Transistors Using Controlled Spalling for Substrate Heterogeneity’;
  • $2,900,000 to HRL Laboratories for ‘Low-Cost Gallium Nitride Vertical Transistor’;
  • $558,914 to Michigan State University for ‘Diamond Diode and Transistor Devices’;
  • $3,172,205 to University of California, Santa Barbara for ‘Current Aperture Vertical Electron Transistor Device Architectures for Efficient Power Switching’; and
  • $2,496,428 to University of Notre Dame for ‘PolarJFET Novel Vertical GaN Power Transistor’.

For full details, see the web link below.

See related items:

ARPA-E issues two wide-bandgap funding opportunities

Tags: GaN power transistor SiC power devices GaN substrates

Visit: www.arpa-e.energy.gov/sites/default/files/

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