The US Department of Energy gave a major boost to UT and Virginia Tech recently when it selected those two institutions to receive almost $6 million in combined funding for the development of postgraduate courses and studies in power electronics.
“This is a major development for UT, for Virginia Tech, and for the future of energy in the US,” said UT College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis. “This will enable us and our colleagues at Virginia Tech to develop the research and workforce needed to help our country not only maintain but expand its edge in emerging technologies, particularly those related to manufacturing.”
“As a member of the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation, Virginia Tech has long served the nation as a resource for training students and laboratory participants on how to make the translation from applied research to product development,” said Richard C. Benson, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering.
The DOE has been a major player in recent years in the effort to expand the horizons of US manufacturing and develop new energy-related technology. This funding is just the most recent example of President Barack Obama’s backing of and investment in such technologies and in engineering research at both schools.
In January, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited East Tennessee for one such example, the $259 million IACMI, or Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation. Housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory with both UT and ORNL as key strategic partners, IACMI aims to help change the landscape of manufacturing while fostering an increase in energy performance and sustainability.
Another major example of federal support came when Virginia Tech was named one of seven partners in the $140 million Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute. Charged with inventing the technology and manufacturing processes for power electronic devices based on wide-bandgap semiconductors, the institute dovetails nicely with the more recent announcement.
At UT, connections such as IACMI and the DOE designation mirror the growing focus on such areas within the college.
“Our close ties to ORNL, our growing reputation with the DOE in our electronics and energy programs such as CURENT (the UT-housed $18 million electric grid research center) helped establish us as a major player in this field,” said Fred Wang, the Condra Chair of Excellence in Power Electronics at UT. “This is an area where we can really help a national cause.”
A major focus for both universities will be on classes and research in areas including converting electrical energy into controllable, usable power sources; developing high-temperature, high-voltage, and high-frequency semiconductors capable of operating under conditions that current silicon-based ones cannot; and introducing wide-bandgap power electronics.
“The goals of the proposed project are first to train the next generation of U.S. engineers with wide-bandgap power semiconductor expertise to help fill the future workforce needs in that field,” said Rolando Burgos, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech and a member of the Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES).
The funding will allow research and development of high-efficiency grid apparatus and high-efficiency electrical power systems, as well as enhancing power engineering curricula by formalizing wide-bandgap-oriented design procedures for power electronics components and systems.
Classes and trainee programs for both are likely to begin in the fall of 2016, with UT receiving a $2.9 million share of funding and Virginia Tech receiving $3 million.
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