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NREL Joins Initiative to Boost Power Electronics Energy Efficiency and Job Market

January 27, 2014

Wide bandgap (WBG) technology promises to dramatically increase performance, reduce size and cost, and improve reliability of electronics packaging found in today's computers, data-servers, cell phones, and electric-drive vehicles. In an initiative announced on January 15, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is joining North Carolina State University (NCSU) in the Energy Department's new Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Next Generation Power Electronics to accelerate development and commercialization of WBG technology, as well as reinvigorate the U.S. manufacturing sector.

"WBG-based electronics packaging can help us shrink the size of components while improving performance and reliability, which can potentially lead to less expensive and more energy-efficient components and vehicles. We are pleased to be part of this institute," says Sreekant Narumanchi, section supervisor of NREL's Advanced Power Electronics and Electric Machines team, which focuses on vehicle component research and development (R&D).

NREL will work closely with institute partners to develop thermal management strategies for WBG components for different applications. The institute aims to make WBG technology cost-competitive with current silicon-based components in the next five years.

The institute will bring partners together to share R&D facilities, equipment, and capabilities. Through the collaboration of researchers, designers, manufacturers, and suppliers, the institute hopes to introduce technologies to market faster, as well as train workers for job opportunities in an emerging industry.

As a national leader in vehicle power electronics thermal management and reliability R&D, NREL's research in this area focuses on improved efficiency, reliability, and cost of electric-drive vehicle components, including electric machines, power electronics, battery systems, chargers, and accessories. NREL is the Energy Department's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.

Funded with $70 million from the Energy Department's Advanced Manufacturing Office and a matching $70 million in non-federal cost share, the institute brings together more than 25 companies, universities, and government organizations. It is part of a planned national network of up to 45 institutes intended to spur innovation and U.S. job growth. The federal government has committed a total of $200 million to these institutes across five agencies (Defense, Energy, Commerce, NASA, and the National Science Foundation).

—Julia Thomas