New Connector Makes Using Efficient DC Power Much Safer

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

The Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems (FREEDM) Center has developed a groundbreaking direct current (DC) connector that lets users consume less power and operate their devices more safely. FREEDM, a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center (ERC), is headquartered at North Carolina State University.

Impact/benefits: 

For many applications, such as computer data centers, DC power provides nearly 15% greater efficiency than standard alternating current, or AC. Traditionally, using DC has come with drawbacks, including susceptibility to dangerous electrical discharges. The FREEDM DC Plug eliminates that hazard while offering several other advantages.

Explanation/Background: 

In DC power systems, the constant, one-way current is prone to arcing, or violently discharging electricity through the air in its natural attempt to close a circuit. The problem is that the arc is not discriminating: It can reach out to any conductive material that’s in the way, be it a piece of sensitive equipment on a circuit board or even a human hand. This limitation can be damaging to equipment and dangerous for people.

Systems exist on the market today to reduce the arcing risk, but they’re not perfect. For one, they rely on mechanical contacts, which wear out after a few hundred uses; and they conceal, rather than eliminate, arcing. They also tend to be incompatible with existing plugs and sockets. The FREEDM ERC’s plug uses a solid-state design for its switch connecting to the main DC distribution line (DC bus). Solid-state components are superior to mechanical switches for durability, speed, and the fact they produce no arcing.