The U.S. Department of Energy and President Obama have enlisted the help of North Carolina State University to lead the Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute. The $140 million advanced manufacturing institute will bring together academic, government and industry collaborators in hopes of revolutionizing energy efficiency through the use of wide bandgap materials. The collaborators include six universities, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and eighteen companies. Cree, RF Micro Devices, IQE, II-VI, Transphorm, and Toshiba are among the companies involved. The goal of the institute is to develop processes that will enable large-scale production of wide bandgap semiconductors for applications such as power grids, electronic devices, and electric vehicles.
The DOE notes that wide bandgap (WBG) materials can improve energy efficiency while reducing system cost and size of power electronics. WBG materials can function at higher power, at higher operating temperatures, and at higher frequencies than conventional silicon-based power electronics. This ability to withstand harsher conditions without degrading their performance makes them more reliable. The institute plans to make WBG wafers available in larger sizes that are compatible with the silicon industry, so production can be scaled up with the equipment that companies already have for fabricating silicon devices.
Some of the applications that the Institute is planning to tackle include: variable frequency drive (VFD) industrial motor systems, AC to DC converters for consumer electronics, and converting renewable power from DC to AC for the power grid.