Two stories headlining Energy.gov, the website of the U.S. Department of Energy, show promise for improved industrial manufacturing, reduced energy costs and job creation in the manufacturing sector.

Supported by $70 million in funding from the Energy Department as well as matching funds from a non-federal cost-share, a consortium of businesses and universities, led by North Carolina State University, will work to develop and manufacture wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductor-based power electronics. The institute will call upon the collective skills of more than 25 companies, universities and state and federal organizations to drive development of the power electronics, which are 10 times more powerful than current silicon-based technology. The smaller, faster and more efficient devices will find ready uses ranging from industrial-scale motors to personal electronics, electric vehicles to renewable power interconnection.

The Energy Department developed a video, online at http://bit.ly/wide-band-gap, to make the case for the innovative technology. According to the video, wide-bandgap semiconductors:

  • Operate at temperature above 300°F (149°C).
  • Handle 10 times higher voltages than current technology semiconductors.
  • Eliminate as much as 90 percent of the power losses in electricity transfer compared to current technology.

Advantages of wide-bandgap semiconductors include lower cost to manufacture electronic goods and greatly reduced energy consumption, which means all users of electronics — and who isn’t? — will benefit.

Regular readers of this column may recall how the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a process to turn algae into bio-crude oil in just minutes, potentially creating an ultra-time-compressed substitute for the natural processes that produced fossil fuels. At the same time, researchers at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography discovered a breakthrough that may help improve the yield of lipids, which as in humans, are the energy-storing fat molecules. The lipids can be used in biofuel production, so significantly greater yield could lead to more efficient biofuels.

In addition, Algenol, a pilot-scale integrated biorefinery funded by the Energy Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office, has an algae strain that can produce ethanol directly before converting residual biomass to hydrocarbon fuels. To encourage developments such as Algenol, BETO will host an algal biofuels strategy workshop in March. Among the topics planned are the current barriers to algal biofuel commercialization and the state of technology and progress made in achieving success metrics. Learn more at http://1.usa.gov/1dRhiDe.

Pushing the boundaries of fuel production and energy optimization hold promise for innovative, energy-efficient industrial technologies.

 

Linda Becker, Associate Publisher and Editor,

 BeckerL@bnpmedia.com