Dushan Boroyevich is the fourth ECE faculty member to achieve this honor, joining Fred C. Lee, Arun Phadke, and James S. Thorp.
Dushan Boroyevich, the American Electric Power Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions awarded to engineers. Inductees are honored for contributions to research, practice, or education, and for developing new fields of technology and other major advancements in the field of engineering. There are a total 2,250 U.S. members of the academy.
"I am honored and humbled," Boroyevich says of his election to the academy. He believes that the distinction is a tribute to Virginia Tech, the College of Engineering, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his mentors. This country and the Virginia Tech community, he says, were welcoming and supportive, "when I came from some god forsaken' country (Yugoslavia) to study for a Ph.D. under Fred Lee's supervision and again, when I came back from the war-riven' country to become a professor."
Power conditioning for systems on the move
Engineers use power electronics technology to convert electricity between ac and dc, and to change the voltage and frequency as needed for applications ranging from milliwatt consumer electronic devices to gigawatt systems. Dushan Boroyevich has spent most of his career at the larger end of the spectrum, predominantly working with autonomous electric power systems in airplanes, automobiles, ships, and trains.
Transportation systems must carry their power sources and fuel wherever they go, so manufacturers are constantly seeking ways to improve efficiency and reliability. This leads to reduced need for redundancy, lighter loads, less fuel consumption and ultimately, lower costs and lower environmental impact. At the same time, passenger demands have increased, particularly regarding power for multiple devices and much higher comfort expectations.
As a result, the past few decades have seen an explosion in the complexity of the autonomous power systems. "In the past, ships and planes had electro-mechanical switches to direct the electricity from the sources, down the cables, to the energy-consuming devices (loads). But today's distributed systems have many sources and many different load requirementseach one requiring a power electronic converter to optimize its own performance and efficieny," says Boroyevich. "Recently, there has been a growing focus on also optimizing the power distribution system between the sources and loads by reducing the size and weight of the wiring and eliminating the electro-mechanical switchgear. That's where much of my work has been," he adds. By optimizing the whole power system, less wiring is required, reducing still more bulk and weight while increasing the system energy efficiency.
Specialties in system control and power density
Boroyevich says he does his best thinking when consulting with students.
Boroyevich has concentrated most of his research on power electronics system control and power density. The control problems relate to the interactions between the power converters that control the flow of electricity. "How do all these converters work with each other" he asks. "You have the converters optimizing the sources and loads and the converters optimizing the use of the wires. These are all electronic boxes' and they all think they are smart." Problems can arise when a "smart" converter shuts down the whole power system because of a local variance. Another big issue is that these electronic boxes operate internally at high frequencies, which inadvertently generate signals that may propagate through the power system, and can cause each other to malfunction (due to electromagnetic interferenceEMI).
Power density is also a big factor in mobile power electronics systems. Any change made to a system must weigh less than what it's replacing, according to Boroyevich, who first got involved in power converter packaging in the mid 1990s. "With power electronics, the whole system can be smaller if we design it properly, in an integrated way," he says. "The challenge is how do we make the converters as small as possible without sacrificing reliability, efficiency, and manufacturability"
The answers rely on continuous collaboration with mechanical engineers and materials scientists. It's an ongoing challenge, he says.
Meeting society's energy challenges
Boroyevich enjoys working on the tough interdisciplinary problems and working in a research group that tackles such broad applications as does CPES. Other research teams in the center work on lower power applications like cell phones, computers, data centers, and consumer electronics, while still others work on the underlying basic technologies such as circuits, components, and their integration. The different perspectives are beneficial, he says. "Our ideas and approaches are similar, but our constraints differ."
Another difference is that high-power applications traditionally evolved from ac power sources, whereas many low-power applications are dc-based. The growing integration of power electronics technology has enabled ac and dc to be used for best efficiency instead of being determined by the source. "This whole question of Tesla vs. Edison and who won is of no practical significance today," Boroyevich says. "They ere both correct." And now the technology exists to use both forms to their best advantage, he says, by using high-frequency ac within converters and dc for interconnecting them.
Generating and using electricity as sustainably as possible is critical, according to Boroyevich. "I believe that energy is the next big challenge for humanity." He says that electricity is the cleanest, most environmentally friendly, and least-prone-to-disaster form of energy for distribution and consumption, but that today's 100-year-old power grid technology is not up to the task. Today's autonomous power systems, especially planes, cars, ships, and trains, can serve as a guide for national energy grids and larger systems, he says.
"Why would we think our power grid will be the same in 50 years as it is today We have shown in transportation that we can throw out 150 years of railroad technology in favor of the individualistic automobile." Perhaps we will be just as bold with energy production and transmission.