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September 1998

 

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VPEC Researchers to Head Up New Power Electronics Center

Department power electronics experts are heading up a new five-university multi-million-dollar research and education center that is expected to achieve a 10-fold improvement in power electronics systems during the next 10 years.

Called the Center for Power Electronics, the new center is being established with a $12.35 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is one of 20 NSF Engineering Research Centers established across the country in critical areas of engineering, and the only one in Virginia.

University officials anticipate that the Center will attract $120 million over the next decade from industrial, federal, and state sources. More than 100 private firms have already signed on as collaborative partners.

30 Percent Reduction in Power Use

Power electronics convert and control raw electric power into forms usable to machinery and electronic equipment. This reconditioned power now accounts for 40 percent of worldwide power consumption and is expected to grow to 80 percent of consumption by 2010, according to Fred Lee, C-PES director and Tech's Lewis A. Hester Professor of Engineering. "Our research could result in a 30 percent reduction in power consumption over the next decade," he said. "These savings are equal to the total electric energy produced by 640 power generation plants."

C-PES researchers hope to realize those gains by developing advanced, integrated power electronics modules (IPEMs) with improved electrical performance and thermal management, greater reliability, and a reduced time to market.

"We expect the impact of this technology to be equal to that of the introduction of VLSI technology," Lee noted. "This technology will take power electronics from expensive, custom-built systems to efficient, cost-effective units for a wide range of applications."

Industrial Testbeds

C-PES is integrating its research and development with industrial testbeds in order to determine appropriate applications and to speed up commercialization of the technology. Three large testbeds are under development, including distributed power systems for computer and telecommunications equipment and high-performance motor drives.

The Center is also working with the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) industry to develop a testbed for more efficient power electronics systems in adjustable-speed drives for air conditioning systems.

5-University Effort

A joint effort between university, industry, and government groups is critical for developing this next-generation of power electronics technology, Lee said. "No single research institution or university has the expertise and resources needed to solve the problems," Lee said.

The five universities that comprise the center are: Virginia Tech, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina A&T State University, and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.

Tech, Wisconsin and Rennselaer are the nation's leaders in power electronics and advanced power semiconductor materials and devices.

Alleviating the Shortage Of Power Electronics Engineers

In addition to research and technology transfer, C-PES is addressing the severe shortage of power electronics engineers. "Currently more than 90 percent of practicing power electronics engineers are trained on the job," Lee explained. "Most of these lack the appropriate theoretical background needed to enhance their skills and further the field," he said.

The five universities are developing a power electronics systems curriculum that involves more than 75 undergraduate and graduate courses and will be cross listed at all five universities. In addition, an option is being developed for undergraduates to specialize in power electronics.

The Center is also developing exchange and distance-learning opportunities for engineers in industry and at all levels of academe. Also, a strong schedule of short courses and seminars will be developed.

The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech


Last Updated, November 22 1998
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