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US DOE announces $48M grid project


ULTRAFAST project will advance performance limits of silicon, wide bandgap, and ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors to improve their actuation methods

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $48 million in funding to support a new program focused on developing power grid technologies that improve control and protection of the US domestic power grid.

The goal of ULTRAFAST (Unlocking Lasting Transformative Resiliency Advances by Faster Actuation of Power Semiconductor technologies) is to advance the performance limits of silicon, wide bandgap (WBG), and ultra-wide bandgap (UWBG) semiconductor devices that will enable faster switching and/or triggering at higher current and voltage levels for improved control and protection of the grid.

Unforeseen power grid outages are estimated to cost the US economy $150 billion annually. The DOE says that modernising the US grid infrastructure with improved efficiency and resilience against extreme weather events is critical to ensuring that clean energy and transportation options can reach communities across the country. Grid modernisation will also support President Biden’s goals to accelerate the deployment of renewables, boost the nation’s energy independence, and achieve 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.

ULTRAFAST will fund projects that aim to enable utilities to more effectively control grid power flow to avoid disturbances, and quickly isolate and route around disruptions.

Managed by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the ULTRAFAST's categories include:

- Device and/or module technologies targeting protection functions at high current and voltage levels by achieving very fast by-pass, shunt, or interrupt capability at as low level of integration as possible with nanosecond-level reaction time (and corresponding slew rates).

- High switching frequency devices and/or modules which enable efficient, high-power, high-speed power electronics converters.

- Complementary technologies such as wireless sensing of voltage and current, high-density packaging with the integrated wireless actuators and device/module-level protection, power cell-level capacitors and inductors, and thermal management strategies to support (1) and (2).

ARPA-E first held a workshop on this topic last year. Workshop participants provided expert inputs on the technical aspects of ultra-fast-triggered semiconductors, and how such devices can aid US national goals to develop future high-performance resilient power systems.

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