FREEDM Ecosystem Spurs Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute at NCSU
In January 2014, President Obama established the Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute at NC State University. The new $140M public-private partnership is supported by the Department of Energy (DOE) and capitalizes on the successful innovation ecosystem pioneered by the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems Center (FREEDM), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC). With consortium partnerships among 18 companies, five universities and two national labs, the Institute’s mission is to enable the next generation of energy-efficient, high-power electronic chips and devices by making wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor technologies cost-competitive with current silicon-based power electronics in the next five years.
There are few global challenges greater than the search for less costly, more efficient energy solutions. WBG technology has the potential to reshape the energy economy by increasing efficiency in everything that uses a semiconductor, from industrial motors and household appliances to military satellites. Power electronic devices are projected to consume 80 percent of all electrical energy by 2030; WBGs will make these devices smaller, faster, and more efficient while also achieving unprecedented gains in performance and reliability. WBGs can reduce the size of consumer electronics like laptop adapters by 80%, or the size of a power station to the size of a suitcase; they can also cut costs in data centers and reduce energy use in the nation’s power grid, according to the DOE.
The Institute and its Consortium will support research and innovation to develop and optimize WBG product and process technologies while training the students, scholars, and workforce who will push the industry forward in the future. The emerging WBG market is expected to create growth throughout the economy by creating jobs in the U.S. supply chain and manufacturing base. The WBG share of the international lighting market alone is estimated to reach $84 billion by 2020.
The Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute is a testimony to the effectiveness of the NSF’s ERC model, in which system-driven research and industry-university partnerships can have significant national and international impact. Faculty members of the FREEDM Center will participate in the activities of the Institute, primarily in the area of WBG power device development and power electronics. While the Institute builds on the success of FREEDM, it will operate as a separate entity.
Like FREEDM, the Institute is headquartered at NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Its Consortium includes the State of North Carolina; two National Labs (the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory); four other Universities (Arizona State University, Florida State University, University of California at Santa Barbara, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute); and 18 industry partners (ABB, APEI, Avogy, Cree, Delphi, Delta Products, DfR Solutions, Gridbridge, Hesse Mechantronics, II-VI, IQE, John Deere, Monolith Semiconductor, RF Micro Devices, Toshiba International, Transphorm, USCi, and Vacon).
The Institute will provide shared facilities, equipment, and testing and modeling capabilities to companies across the power electronics supply chain – particularly small and medium-size manufacturers – to help invent, design and make new semiconductor chips and devices. The Institute pairs chip designers and manufacturers with large power electronic manufacturers and suppliers to help bring these technologies to market faster.
The DOE award includes $70 million over five years, matched by at least $70 million in non-federal commitments by the consortium of businesses and universities, along with the state of North Carolina.
The parent National Network for Manufacturing Innovation currently consists of three new Institutes, including this one, designed to serve as regional hubs for bridging the gap between applied research and product development. The Institutes function as “collaborative teaching factories” that will encourage investment, production and growth within the U.S. The Administration envisions a full national network of up to 45 manufacturing innovation institutes, contingent upon legislation and funding from Congress.