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March 1998


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VPEC Researchers Seek 10x Improvement
In High Power Systems Through PEBB EffortPEBB group photo

VPEC researchers are working on Power Electronic Building Blocks (PEBB) units - a program that is expected to revolutionize industrial and military power electronics.


Department power electronics experts are involved in an effort that is expected to yield a 10-fold improvement in the quality, reliability, and cost of high power electronics systems within the next decade. Called the Power Electronics Building Block (PEBB) effort, the program's goal is to realize an industrial and military impact similar to that brought about by very-large-scale-integrated (VLSI) circuit technology.

High-power processing equipment, such as shipboard power systems; electric vehicles; heating, ventilation, and air conditioners; manufacturing machinery; and medical equipment, is typically bulky, inefficient, and very expensive-requiring custom circuits, controllers, and processors for each application, according to Professor Fred Lee, director of the Virginia Power Electronics Center (VPEC), and a principal investigator on the project.

The PEBB concept involves developing intelligent power modules. These would be standardized, off-the-shelf universal power processors that could be used with any high power system, by changing any electrical power input to any desired form of voltage, current and frequency output. This would eliminate the costs of custom circuits, and lower production costs due to economies of scale. Moreover, PEBB processors would be smaller and faster than current technology, which would further reduce costs.

According to the program goals, the PEBB standard must satisfy both commercial and military users. The program is spearheaded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and is developing both military and commercial applications for the modules. A large commercial base is critical to the military's goal of obtaining low cost, intelligent power in ships, submarines, aircraft and vehicles.

The first step in the effort was to develop an intelligent power module, and apply it in several different systems, such as an electric vehicle inverter, which was developed by VPEC, and an air cooled PEBB module for a Subcycle Transfer Switch, developed by Silicon Power Corporation.

Due to VPEC's long experience and reputation in high-frequency switching and high-power semiconductor devices, the group has been involved in the effort from the start. VPEC researchers were involved in the module development, and initial prototypes, and now are studying system integration and several other issues.

"Many high-power systems will require multiple PEBB modules, which brings challenges for integration and control," said Kun Xing, VPEC team leader of PEBB integration. Xing's team is currently investigating a 100 kW distributed shipboard power system testbed. "Unlike with stand-alone power converters, the use of multiple modules introduces potential interactions that may degrade system performance or destabilize the dc bus," he explained. "We need to prescribe the terminal characteristics of the PEBB modules and define the integration protocols for system stability. We are currently working on module paralleling, active compensation of load dynamics and the reduction of system-level noise."

VPEC teams are also investigating a variety of other PEBB issues, including integration of high power device/low power integrated circuits, integration of passive components, three dimensional packaging, minimizing parasitics, thermal management, and integration of design and CAD tools. The projects involve PEBB packaging, modeling and nonlinear control of PEBB-based power system, superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES), and communications.

In addition to Lee and Xing, VPEC researchers involved in the PEBB effort include: Professors Dushan Boroyevich, G.-Q. Lu, and Doug Nelson, along with graduate students Shatil Haque, Tom Kuhr, Ray Lee Lin, Heping Dai, Changrong Liu, Sudip Mazumder, Zhihong Ye, Xiaogang Feng, Dongho Lee, Nikola Celanovic, Deng-Ming Peng, and Ivana Milosavlijevic.


The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech

Last Updated, April 29, 1998
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