Negative Footprint,
Big Impact

White House Honors Baliga

Electrical and computer engineering professor Dr. B. Jayant Baliga may have the world's smallest carbon footprint the amount of greenhouse gases that a person directly or indirectly releases into the atmosphere each year.

One of Baliga's inventions is responsible for eliminating the need for more than 100 gigawatts of power, which translates to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 1 trillion pounds per year. Now he is working to make his footprint even smaller by pursuing new inventions that further improve energy efficiency.

In 1980, Baliga launched a revolution in efficient energy when he invented the insulated-gate bipolar transistor or IGBT, a semiconductor that controls the flow of power from the energy source to whatever device needs the energy. The IGBT improves energy efficiency by more than 40 percent in an array of products, from gas-powered and electric cars to refrigerators, light bulbs and even cardiac defibrillators.

The energy saved by the use of IGBTs in electric motors and energy-efficient light bulbs alone equals 100 gigawatts, meaning that new one-gigawatt, coal-fired power plants won't need to be built to match the former demand. There are economic benefits as well to the tune of $2 billion for each plant that does not have to be built.

The United Kingdom group Carbon Footprint estimates that the average American has a footprint of 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. At that rate, Baliga's negative carbon footprint offsets the impact of more than 22 million Americans every year.

Founding director of NC State's Power Semiconductor Research Center, Baliga is now in the ranks of Microsoft's Bill Gates and Apple Computer founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. All are recipients of the nation's highest honor for technological achievement.

"It is a great honor to be recognized by the nation for my work over the last 35 years," says Baliga, who grew up in a small village in India and came to the United States in 1969 for graduate studies.

During the presentation of only five National Medals of Technology and Innovation last fall, President Obama cited a story of a young Jay Baliga finding a physics book that sparked his curiosity. "He remembered that and now tells his students to go beyond the curriculum and come up with ideas of their own."

The national medal, awarded annually, recognizes outstanding contributions to America's economic, environmental and social well-being. Established by the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980, the medal was first awarded in 1985.

Baliga, who holds more than 120 patents and has written 16 books and more than 500 scholarly articles, grew up in a home bursting with ideas and innovation. His father, one of India's first electrical engineers, was an industry pioneer who helped bring broadcasting to the new nation in the years following independence. The first time anyone watched television in India was in the Baligas' living room.

Early in his career at General Electric, some colleagues were skeptical of Baliga's theories. But he persevered. In 15 years at the GE Research and Development Center, he led its power device effort, earning the company's highest scientific rank of Coolidge Fellow. He continues with equal drive now.

"It's wonderful to see power semiconductor technology recognized for its enormous contribution to improving the quality of life for society, while mitigating our impact on the environment," he says. "And while much has been accomplished, I am continuing my work in the area of renewable energy systems."

The public at large can thank Baliga every day, and not just for the dollars saved by his innovation. The use of IGBT technology in portable cardiac defibrillators is estimated to have saved nearly 100,000 lives in the United States.

"I am blessed that technology that I had developed for industrial and consumer and other applications is now having an impact on saving people's lives," he says in a video posted online at www.nationalmedals.org.

Baliga's work now centers on the Future Renewable Electric Energy Distribution and Management Systems Center's smart grid research. Known as FREEDM, the National Science Foundation-sponsored Engineering Research Center is located on Centennial Campus.

A faculty member at NC State since 1988, Baliga is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the IEEE . His many past honors include the University of North Carolina's O. Max Gardner Award. He has been inducted into the Electronic Design Engineering Hall of Fame and was named one of "Eight Heroes of the Semiconductor Revolution" by Scientific American.

When asked to inspire students at a graduation ceremony, he offered succinct advice for young inventors. "I have found it indispensible to set aggressive goals, and then try to make them a reality."

 

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The National Medal for Technology and Innovation, presented to Dr. B. Jayant Baliga, is often called America's Nobel Prize for innovation.