Learning to Advance Wide Bandgap (WBG) Power Electronics

Achievement date: 
2017
Outcome/accomplishment: 

A new graduate traineeship for MS and PhD students at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) is preparing engineers to use wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, a new technology that improves performance of power electronics systems beyond the limits of traditional silicon-based designs. The United States is a world leader in developing WBG and this program is developing the workforce that will apply and enhance its application in industry and research. The traineeship was promoted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and is an initiative of the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) that is headquartered at UTK.

Impact/benefits: 

As with many technologies, advances in WBG outpaced the training of professional workers and researchers to use and further develop it. The WBG graduate traineeship program provides engineering students with comprehensive WBG power electronics fundamentals, rigorous hands-on training in simulation and experimental work with WBG semiconductor devices, and professional development. A companion program offers internships at WBG-related companies and DOE National Laboratories. The traineeship program also has collaborative activities with PowerAmerica, an advanced manufacturing institute whose mission is to save energy and create U.S. manufacturing jobs by accelerating the development and adoption of WBG semiconductor technology in power electronics systems.

A graduate certificate program in electrical engineering entitled, Wide Bandgap (WBG) Power Electronics Graduate Certificate, has been approved by UTK and appears in the 2017-2018 Graduate Catalog. So far, 16 U.S. citizen graduate students have matriculated to UTK to participate in this program during its first two years. Faculty have modified the content of several graduate courses to include more WBG power electronics related content, more design, and more hands-on experiences.

Explanation/Background: 

The overarching objectives of the training and internships are to reduce the cost and the perceived risk inherent with the new technology and enable American industry to develop more innovative power electronics products and systems. WBG is having notable impact in many major sectors, for example:

  • Industrial: Precision variable-speed drives & high temperature operation
  • Electric Utilities: A more resilient, secure energy grid
  • Electric Transportation: Efficient charging & increased range
  • Renewable Energy: Higher efficiencies in power conversion
  • Military: Smaller, faster, lighter, & more rugged power electronics