Think and Do.
President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have tapped NC State to lead a $140 million advanced manufacturing institute that will unite academic, government and industry partners in an effort to revolutionize energy efficiency across a wide range of applications, including electronic devices, power grids and electric vehicles.
The mission of the Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute is to develop advanced manufacturing processes that will enable large-scale production of wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, which allow electronic components to be smaller, faster and more efficient than semiconductors made from silicon.
WBG semiconductor technology has the potential to reshape the American energy economy by increasing efficiency in everything that uses a semiconductor, from industrial motors and household appliances to military satellites.
Power in Partnership
NC State is leading the institute because of its success in developing energy innovations and working with partners to deploy them. NC State faculty in electrical engineering, computer engineering and materials sciences are on the leading edge of efforts to advance the use of WBG semiconductors.
NC State’s think-and-do approach to solving problems has created solutions that are already reshaping the energy sector. As the only university leading two active National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Centers, NC State has a proven track record of assembling teams to confront global challenges. In 2008 the university launched the FREEDM Systems Center, a model for the new clean energy institute, to lead the modernization of the U.S. power grid. Three years later the NSF created the ASSIST Center at NC State, which is developing self-powered health monitors.
Jump-Starting New Industry
The innovations developed by the Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute will give U.S. manufacturers a head start in the emerging WBG market. The WBG share of the international lighting market alone will reach $84 billion by 2020, the government estimates.
The institute will work to develop and optimize processes for manufacturing of WBG semiconductors while training the students and scholars who will push the industry forward in the future. Among NC State’s partners are four other universities — Arizona State, Florida State, the University of California-Santa Barbara and Virginia Tech — and 18 energy industry leaders.
Those corporate partners include Durham, N.C.-based Cree, whose innovative technology — first developed at NC State — has enabled it to become a front runner in the global lighting industry.
The total investment in the institute is $140 million, including a $70 million federal grant — the largest research contract in NC State’s history — and matching funds from the state of North Carolina and the institute’s university and industry partners.
This sort of approach to building industries is an NC State specialty. In its leadership of the Nonwovens Institute, another partnership with government and industry, NC State has sparked a textiles revival that has brought $700 million in industry investment to North Carolina in the last decade.
Partners for Prosperity
The Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute comprises 25 energy sector leaders. Some, like Durham-based lighting manufacturer Cree, have longstanding connections to NC State. Below are our business and industry partners:
Energy, Less Costly and More Efficient
There are few global challenges greater than the search for less costly, more efficient energy solutions. Power electronic devices are projected to consume 80 percent of all electrical energy by 2030, according to the DOE.
That’s where WBG technology comes in. The term “bandgap” refers to the amount of energy required to make electrons jump off their atoms and begin conducting electricity through a material. Conductor materials, such as copper, often do not have a bandgap, which is what makes them good conductors. Silicon-based semiconductors have narrow bandgaps, and most insulating materials — such as rubber and glass — have very wide bandgaps. The advantage of having a semiconductor with a wider bandgap is that it allows an electronic device to operate at higher temperatures, voltages and frequencies, resulting in less energy loss, better performance and greater efficiency.
WBG technology could halve the size of the average automobile’s cooling system, cut costs in data centers and reduce energy use in the nation’s power grid, according to the DOE.