VCU School of Engineering to Host International Power Electronics Conference

February 19, 2014 by Jeff Shepard

School of Engineering Dean Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., announced today that Virginia's groundbreaking research and development of smart materials has resulted in Virginia Commonwealth University and Richmond being selected as the site for the Darnell Energy Summit, an international conference on power electronics. The event on Sept. 23-25 is expected to attract up to 200 senior-level executives representing leading power electronics companies from Asia, Europe and North America.

“This prestigious event is coming to Richmond entirely because of Virginia’s global leadership in what are called ‘high deformation’ smart materials, which experts in the field believe hold a multi-billion dollar economic opportunity for the Commonwealth,” Boyan said.

Gary Tepper, Ph.D., Chair of VCU’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, said: “Public and private entities in Virginia have spent more than 15 years developing these technologies. The organizers of the Energy Summit recognize these remarkable smart materials are ready to be used in hundreds of products and deserve the attention of the international power electronics industry.”

VCU’s Smart Materials Laboratory has been at the forefront of the research of high-deformation smart materials, which are wafers the size of a playing card or smaller that generate electricity when they are flexed or vibrated.

“At first, this technology was years ahead of the market – but now the market has caught up,” said Karla Mossi, Ph.D., director of the Smart Materials Lab. “The opportunity is right in front of us. But, we must move quickly.”

“High-deformation smart materials will revolutionize the way materials affect our everyday life,” Mossi said. “These devices are more powerful, more rugged and they can be much less expensive than competitive technologies. These big advantages set this technology apart and, most importantly, can bridge the gap between research and the development of new products.”

The materials can bring to reality a wide range of applications, including products that are self-powered and no longer need batteries, which means lower cost and less environmental waste, and also sensors and actuators with important medical applications, she noted.

According to Mossi, “NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton was the original inventor of high deformation smart materials in the 1990s. The Face Companies of Norfolk have worked since then to make these materials commercially viable, and Virginia's Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing can play an important role in accelerating their adoption across multiple markets.”

Robert Klenke, Ph.D., Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at VCU, said: "With the introduction of distributed, renewable energy sources, new demand profiles from such things as electric vehicles, the aging of the power grid, and the push towards energy conservation through demand management, advances in smart grids and associated technology are critically needed. The School of Engineering is developing new capabilities in these areas, including a microgrid installed by Dominion Voltage, Inc. in our Engineering West Building."

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with VCU to host DES ’14,” stated Jeff Shepard, President of Darnell Group. “The technologies available at VCU can find immediate practical applications in power conversion and energy management and range from thermal management, to energy harvesting, to actuators, and more. Add to that the depth of experience the VCU technical team has with microgrid operation in a real-world environment and it becomes obvious the breadth of technical content that will be brought to DES delegates as a result of this sponsorship.”