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Recent advances reinforce new research in the transport and manufacturing sectors

Image of a man using laboratory equipment.

NREL researcher Sreekant Narumanchi uses a liquid cooling circuit to characterize the reliability of NREL’s designed dielectric fluid jet cooling approach. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Always with an eye to the future, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are revolutionizing clean energy mobility beyond light electric vehicles (EVs) by building advanced power electronics systems that control the flow of electricity to drive machines. large and advanced electric, including those used in aircraft, trains and heavy transport. With the support of the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) programs, NREL is collaborating on new research projects in sustainable aviation, network storage and computer science. high energy efficiency.

“This is an exciting time to work in power electronics,” said Sreekant Narumanchi, senior researcher at NREL. “These important partnerships are enabling us to develop the most cutting-edge system designs to reduce costs, reduce component footprint and improve overall performance, reliability and efficiency.”

Electric mobility applications use power electronics, such as inverters, converters and chargers, to manage the flow of electricity between the battery, electric motor, and other powertrain components. Depending on the application, systems must operate at higher temperatures, voltages, switching frequencies and power conversion efficiencies. Advanced systems pose advanced challenges, but NREL researchers are experimenting with new power electronics and electric motor packaging, semiconductor electrothermal designs, and thermal management systems for transportation and manufacturing. NREL’s testing facilities offer first-rate assessments and measurements in heat transfer, reliability characterization, package prototyping, and thermal and thermomechanical modeling.

State-of-the-art power electronics and electrical machines for maximum performance

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NREL researcher Emily Cousineau uses the Instron 5966 tabletop dual column test system to measure the mechanical and thermal properties of material layers. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Power electronics are at the heart of power conversion in an electric-powered vehicle, managing the flow of power between various components within the vehicle. Next generation power electronics and electric machine designs can improve the performance of electric vehicle powertrain components and digital technologies that make electric vehicles safer and smarter. In larger applications, such as heavy-duty equipment, power electronics also require optimization of high power and high temperature.

As a leader in broadband power electronics (WBG) research, NREL evaluates and develops electrothermal semiconductor designs and packaging technologies that offer greater reliability, power density and efficiency. WBG devices, such as silicon carbide or gallium nitride, offer lighter, more compact and potentially robust alternatives to traditional components. Ongoing research is helping to highlight these benefits and increase the adoption of WBG systems.

“Our team is working with industry partners, such as General Electric, Cummins, BorgWarner and John Deere, to optimize the thermal performance of high power density WBG electric motors and inverters,” said Narumanchi. “The lighter overall weight, footprint and improved performance of these models offer clear benefits in terms of fuel efficiency and operating costs for electrified mobility applications.”

NREL researchers rely on state-of-the-art modeling and characterization to perform reliability assessment and failure analysis of new power electronics designs. Advanced modeling capabilities allow researchers to identify thermal bottlenecks and optimize packaging performance for power electronics. Additionally, the researchers leverage extensive characterization through thermal, humidity and vibration tests to better understand how stressors affect emerging technologies. As a result, NREL-designed systems prioritize safety, reliability and efficiency for maximum operational performance.

Unprecedented thermal management and cooling capacity

A man using laboratory equipment.

NREL researcher Gilbert Moreno prepares dielectric fluid circuit experiments to evaluate the heat transfer of the electrical system component. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Overheating can cause irreparable damage to power electronics and electric motors, causing the system to slow down or malfunction. Advanced thermal management systems are critical to the performance and safety of all electrified components of the traction drive, including semiconductor power devices, power modules, inverters and electric motors. NREL engineers are experts in system-level thermal management designs that incorporate advanced heat transfer to regulate temperatures throughout the entire power electronics and electrical machine system. Additionally, recent innovative cooling strategies, such as jet impingement, push the boundaries of design for power electronics and electric machines.

“Advanced cooling and thermal management systems optimize the performance of electric vehicles and advanced machines,” said Narumanchi. “These systems help keep temperatures within operating limits, reduce component volume and weight, improve component efficiency and increase vehicle efficiency and range. Ultimately, these benefits help reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions ”.

An ongoing ARPA-E collaboration with Stanford University is “Exploring the Limits of Cooling for Extreme Heat Flux Applications,” featuring improved thermal management of data center and power electronics chips. Stanford University researchers are developing a new cooling technology, the Extreme Heat Flux Micro- (EHFμ-) cooler, supported by NREL’s experimental reliability assessment of thermal management technologies. The EHFμ-Cooler significantly reduces the temperature of the device, resulting in the dissipation of heat flux of more than 1,000 W / cm2 to cool the device.

NREL’s thermal management research also includes two projects under the ARPA-E Aviation-class Synergtically Cooled Electric-motors with integrated Drivers (ASCEND) program to support the development of innovative electric motors, motor drives and thermal management systems, lightweight and ultra-efficient for sustainable aviation. The first project, led by the General Electric Global Research Center, will design a fully integrated 2 MW fully electric aircraft thruster and demonstrate a 350 kW laboratory-scale prototype to enable zero-emission narrow-body commercial aircraft with all-electric propulsion. The second project, led by Marquette University, focuses specifically on building a high-power density engine for aviation propulsion. NREL’s support for these projects includes thermal management modeling, analysis and characterization of advanced cooling concepts and inverter components, along with thermomechanical design and techno-economic analysis for various power electronics components , electric motors and integrated electric motors.

Expertise in power electronics for a clean energy future

A man using laboratory equipment.

NREL researcher Joshua Major operates the accelerated drive cycle platform equipped with a single-axis electrodynamic agitator and AGREE-style environmental chamber used to perform reliability tests on system components. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

These existing partnerships barely scratch the surface of NREL’s advanced power electronics and electrical machinery capabilities, and the most exciting research has just begun. ARPA-E has recently selected three new projects supported by the NREL experience:

  • Reuse of gravity storage infrastructure using underground potential energyled by NREL, it will use system-level electromechanical modeling to determine the sizing of transmission components to convert idle oil and gas wells into energy storage devices.
  • Bringing three-dimensional packaging and thermal management to power electronics, led by Synteriswill include NREL research to improve thermal management, power density, performance and durability of ceramic packaging for power electronic modules.
  • Substation in one cable for low cost adaptable electrical distribution (SCALED)led by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, it will include NREL thermal management research to develop compact, high-performance power electronics in the context of network applications.

Under the ARPA-E OPEN 2021 program, these projects prioritize high-impact, high-risk technologies that support new approaches to clean energy challenges.

“Each of these projects involves exciting new collaborations with industry and university partners, as well as collaborations between NREL groups, to develop state-of-the-art power modules, packages, converters and transmission components that impact multiple energy and energy efficiency applications. renewable, “said Narumanchi.

Learn more about NREL’s sustainable transport and mobility and advanced manufacturing research.

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