$22 Million for WBG Semis to Drive MegaWatt Motors

September 23, 2015 by Jeff Shepard

As part of the effort to increase energy efficiency and double U.S. energy productivity by 2030, the Energy Department is awarding $22 million in funding for five projects aimed at merging wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductor technology with advancements for large-scale motors to increase energy efficiency in high-energy consuming industries, products and processes, such as the transportation of fossil fuels and industrial-scale compression systems. These projects, funded through the Next Generation Electric Machines funding opportunity, could cut energy waste by as much as 30 percent. The projects also aim to reduce the size of MW-scale motors and drive systems used in the chemical and petroleum refining industries, natural gas infrastructure, and general industry compressor applications like HVAC systems, refrigeration, and wastewater pumps by up to 50 percent.

"The industrial sector uses more than 30 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. and is projected to use more, not less, energy over the next twenty five years," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson. "Replacing less efficient industrial motor systems with more advanced, variable-speed direct-drive systems and incorporating recent power electronics advances, such as wide-bandgap semiconductors, could reduce industrial electricity consumption by 2 to 4 percent, leading to up to $2.7 billion in annual energy savings, reducing up to 27 million tons of carbon emissions each year, and creating high-quality manufacturing jobs.”

These projects will leverage the work of the Department’s Power America Institute on WBG semiconductors for power electronics by deploying WBG technology to drive large power, industrial and high-speed electric motors and systems. WBG components—which control or convert electrical energy into usable power—operate at higher temperatures, voltages, and frequencies than silicon-based technologies.

They are more durable and reliable, and can eliminate up to 90 percent of the power losses in electricity conversion compared to current technologies. By focusing on their specific application for large-scale motors, manufacturers can significantly improve the efficiency and productivity of processes ranging from small-scale machining to large-scale refining, pumping and cooling.

The projects funded today are: Calnetix Technologies will design, build and test a high-speed permanent magnet machine and a SiC-based variable speed drive system using 4,160-V medium voltage (MV) input. The new MV motors are expected to achieve up to eight times the power density of similar traditional systems. General Electric Company will develop and demonstrate a MV drive system using SiC semiconductors and a high-speed motor to reduce the system footprint and improve power density and efficiency. To achieve these targets, the program will focus on three technology areas: (i) SiC-based MV high-frequency drive, (ii) a high-speed motor, and (iii) advanced insulation systems.

Eaton Corporation will develop and test an integrated 15kV SiC variable-speed drive and high-speed MW motor for gas compression applications. This new drive technology will operate at greater than 99 percent efficiency and achieve 10 times the power density of competing drives, providing an integrated, highly-efficient motor and drive system for natural gas applications. Clemson University will develop a pre-commercial MW-class variable-speed drive based on new motor power converter technologies. The fully integrated prototype system will be made by TECO Westinghouse Motor Company in its Round Rock, TX facility and be demonstrated at Clemson’s eGRID Center. And the Ohio State University will design, test, and demonstrate a high-performance, high-speed drive capable of integrating into electric grids while avoiding energy losses associated with power transformers. If successful, the proposed project will significantly advance transformer-less drive technologies for a range of industries and motor applications.