Holonyak Lab professor receives DOD grant to improve power electronics reliability, efficiency

1/22/2021 Lizzie Roehrs

Through his research project, “High-voltage Characterization System for Research on Next Generation Power Electronics,” HMNTL professor Can Bayram is working to keep UIUC at the forefront of the next generation of power.


Written by Lizzie Roehrs

Transforming today’s electric grid into the next-generation, highly automated, highly efficient and interactive “smart” grids will require creating many technologies, tools, and techniques that depend on power electronics. According to HMNTL professor Can Bayram, power electronics are the extension of solid-state electronics, moving from handling communications and data and into the area of efficiently handling power, from milliwatts to gigawatts. Through his research project, “High-voltage Characterization System for Research on Next Generation Power Electronics,” Bayram is working to keep UIUC at the forefront of this next generation of power.

“It makes the mobile phone battery charge faster and last longer, it makes hybrid cars practical, and it helps make possible generation and distribution of electricity from sources ranging from a solar cell on our roof to a power plant located at a very large distance from the electricity user,” says Bayram. “Existing silicon-based power electronics devices enable current electric grid functionalities such as fault-current limiting, although with great inefficiencies.”

Bayram’s group is researching next-generation wide and ultra-wide bandgap-based power electronics. These materials make it possible to reduce energy losses, weight, volume, and life-cycle costs in a wide range of power applications. For instance, diamond materials have the potential to reduce transformer size and cut transmission losses by 75%. The proposed research will also enable more efficient, low-carbon electricity production and distribution.

“The knowledge generated from this research will allow engineers and researchers to have more control of power flow and the ability to integrate more functionality into existing systems (e.g., direct current converters combined with transformers), reducing the amount of equipment needed and increase asset utilization,” says Bayram. “Thanks to their robust switching capabilities, diamond electronics will enable transmission and distribution lines to be loaded more heavily without increasing the risk of disturbances on the system.”

Next generation diamond-enabled power electronics allow electricity to flow in both directions between grids, allowing them to absorb supply power as needed. These also improve power system transient and dynamic stability through the development of wide-area, stable controls for power systems.

“Worldwide, fossil fuels continue to supply over 60% of world electricity,” says Bayram. “This makes our electricity prone to natural electromagnetic attacks such as solar flares.  The significant gains in efficiency, reliability, and resilience in electricity production and distribution thanks to the use of diamond in power electronics will also lead to reductions in fossil fuels used and carbon emissions worldwide and securing the electricity grids against electromagnetic attacks.”

Bayram’s unique research complements other microelectronic research infrastructure in wide and ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors at UIUC. This makes the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign a hub for the advanced next-generation electronics revolution in the Midwest for students, researchers, and faculty.

“The University of Illinois has a vertical infrastructure from design, growth, characterization, and fabrication in the area of advanced next-generation semiconductor devices,” says Bayram. “This emerging diamond semiconductor is nationally critical material and diamond-based power electronics is a critical research area that will impact the entire nation.”

This research is funded by a grant from the DOD under the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program. Bayram is one of only 150 researchers to receive such funding for FY2021.

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This story was published January 22, 2021.