NC State researchers have created a high voltage and high frequency silicon carbide (SiC) power switch that could cost much less than similarly rated SiC power switches. The findings may lead to early applications in the power industry, especially in power converters like medium voltage drives, solid state transformers and high voltage transmissions and circuit breakers.
Wide bandgap semiconductors, such as SiC, show tremendous potential for use in medium- and high-voltage power devices because of their ability to work more efficiently at higher voltages. Currently though, their high cost impedes their widespread adoption over the prevailing workhorse and industry standard — insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBT) made from silicon — which generally work well but incur large energy losses when they are turned on and off.
The new SiC power switch, however, could cost approximately one-half the estimated cost of conventional high voltage SiC solutions, says Dr. Alex Huang and Ph.D. candidate Xiaoqing Song, researchers in the FREEDM Systems Center, a National Science Foundation-funded engineering research center led by the College. Besides the lower cost, the high-power switch maintains the SiC device’s high efficiency and high switching speed characteristics. In other words, it doesn’t lose as much energy when it is turned on or off.
The power switch, called the FREEDM Super-Cascode, combines 12 smaller SiC power devices in series to reach a power rating of 15 kilovolts (kV) and 40 amps (A). It requires only one gate signal to turn it on and off, making it simple to implement and less complicated than the IGBT series connection-based solutions. The power switch is also able to operate over a wide range of temperatures and frequencies due to its proficiency in heat dissipation, a critical factor in power devices.