Batteries and Portable Power

Smart Materials added to Darnell Energy Summit Program

With over 50 companies and organizations represented on the combined Advisory Committee, momentum is rapidly building for the second-annual Darnell’s Energy Summit (DES ’14) to be hosted in Richmond, Virginia, 23-25 September. DES ’14 will be a combined event featuring the Eleventh Darnell Power Forum (DPF ’14) plus the Sixth Green Building Power Forum (GBPF ’14) plus the Fifth Smart Grid Electronics Forum (SGEF ’14). DES ’14 will feature the next-generation power electronic devices, architectures and systems. A key focus of DES ’14 will be broad and growing impact of Smart Materials on energy efficiency and power conversion.

Smart materials include numerous leading-edge technologies such as MEMS, piezoelectrics, thermoelectrics, advanced semiconductor materials such as GaN, SiC and GaAs, new magnetic materials, and so on. They will find application in all areas of power conversion and energy management including; power converters, energy harvesting, energy storage, sensors, power switching, wireless power transfer, thermal management, actuators/controls, and more. DES '14 will include the most in-depth discussion ever of these new Smart Materials and their impact on power conversion and energy management.

"Groundbreaking research and development of smart materials has resulted in Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Richmond being selected as the site for DES '14," stated Jeff Shepard, President of Darnell Group.

"This prestigious event is coming to Richmond entirely because of Virginia's global leadership in what are called 'high deformation' smart materials, which experts in the field believe hold a multi-billion dollar economic opportunity," stated VCU School of Engineering Dean Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D.

Gary Tepper, Ph.D., Chair of VCU's Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, said: "Public and private entities in Virginia have spent more than 15 years developing these technologies. The organizers of the Energy Summit recognize these remarkable smart materials are ready to be used in hundreds of products and deserve the attention of the international power electronics industry."

VCU's Smart Materials Laboratory has been at the forefront of the research of high-deformation smart materials, which are wafers the size of a playing card or smaller that generate electricity when they are flexed or vibrated.

"At first, this technology was years ahead of the market but now the market has caught up," said Karla Mossi, Ph.D., director of the Smart Materials Lab. "The opportunity is right in front of us. But, we must move quickly."

"High-deformation smart materials will revolutionize the way materials affect our everyday life," Mossi said. "These devices are more powerful, more rugged and they can be much less expensive than competitive technologies. These big advantages set this technology apart and, most importantly, can bridge the gap between research and the development of new products."

The materials can bring to reality a wide range of applications, including products that are self-powered and no longer need batteries, which means lower cost and less environmental waste, and also sensors and actuators with important medical applications, she noted.

According to Mossi, "NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton was the original inventor of high deformation smart materials in the 1990s. The Face Companies of Norfolk have worked since then to make these materials commercially viable, and Virginia’s Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing can play an important role in accelerating their adoption across multiple markets."

Robert Klenke, Ph.D., Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at VCU, said: “With the introduction of distributed, renewable energy sources, new demand profiles from such things as electric vehicles, the aging of the power grid, and the push towards energy conservation through demand management, advances in smart grids and associated technology are critically needed. The School of Engineering is developing new capabilities in these areas, including a microgrid installed by Dominion Voltage, Inc. in our Engineering West Building.”

"We are excited about the opportunity to work with VCU to host DES '14," stated Jeff Shepard, President of Darnell Group. "The technologies available at VCU can find immediate practical applications in power conversion and energy management and range from thermal management, to energy harvesting, to actuators, and more. Add to that the depth of experience the VCU technical team has with microgrid operation in a real-world environment and it becomes obvious the breadth of technical content that will be brought to DES delegates as a result of this sponsorship."

Of course, GaN, SiC, GaAs and other advanced semiconductor materials are well-known as smart materials for next-generation power converters. Silicon MOSFETs, IGBTs, Schottkys, and other devices are under 'attack' by these advanced semiconductor devices. The DPF component at DES will include extensive discussion of new power semiconductor materials and devices.

Piezoelectric materials have been introduced that support multiple applications such as harvesting of mechanical energy and vibrations and the fabrication of powerful actuators that can open/close valves and perform other critical functions. And synthetic jets can be produced that provide high-velocity streams of air for spot cooling and other thermal management needs.

Synthetic jets based on smart materials could provide a thermal management breakthrough for next-generation systems. With a piezoelectric diaphragm driven up and down hundreds of times per second by an ac power source, a synthetic jet pulls in the surrounding air (or other fluid) into a chamber and then expels it.

When used with air as the working fluid, a synthetic jet can provide a highly-targeted and high-velocity flow of cooling air. Synthetic jets made using advanced piezoelectric composite materials can be very thin (fractions of an inch) and extremely rugged. Although the mechanism is fairly simple, extremely fast cycling can require high-level engineering to produce a device that will last in industrial applications.

Nonmagnetic transformers are another area of emerging smart materials technology. One example is the piezoelectric transformer (PT) called the Transoner. These electrical energy transmission devices are electromechanical, not electromagnetic. Transoners are useful in applications involving power conversion, power switching, and wide band signal processing.

MEMS devices have begun appearing for a diverse range of applications such as energy harvesting and power switching. For example, arc-free switching of hundreds of volts has been demonstrated using a MEMS switching device. The resulting arrays are able to conduct current more efficiently and can open orders of magnitude faster than traditional macroscopic mechanical relays. The prototype system has been used to turn on and off a 3/4-hp motor and, more importantly, to provide arc-less protection in a test simulating a 16,000A fault current. Applications envisioned for this highly-scalable technology range from mobile phone handsets to grid-connected appliances.

Thermoelectrics are finding broad application from the generation of milliWatts of power for sensor nodes to ever larger power systems, such as the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator that provides over 100W of power to the Mars Curiosity rover. And Peltier cooling devices have been developed for a wide range of applications from precision cooling of solid-state lasers to spot cooling for LED lighting fixtures.

Separate calls for papers have been issued for each of the constituent events. Each of the individual events will maintain its unique identity and will continue to serve different groups of stakeholders. These co-located events will bring together thought leaders across the areas of advanced power electronics, energy management, micro grids, the smart gird, and related topics of global importance. DES '14 will leverage the successful track records of the separate events to create powerful opportunities for synergy.

DPF ’14 will again be an exciting international event that focuses on “advanced power conversion technologies” needed for the successful development of next-generation power systems. There is tremendous synergy possible from discussions broadly focused on digital power, power management, energy efficiency, advanced components, energy storage, new power architectures, and more. DPF is calling for solutions-oriented papers, with a strong emphasis on practical advances in power electronics. In addition to a strong focus on today’s “best practices,” DPF looks forward toward next-generation solutions and advances.

GBPF ’14 will consider all aspects of building power including high-voltage and low-voltage dc distribution, hybrid ac and dc distribution architectures, and dc micro grids. GBPF is calling for presentations focused on the convergence of technologies that is occurring and that will change how buildings are powered. These technologies include the continued rapid growth of distributed generation (DG) resources; the emergence of high-efficiency lighting technologies; wireless building automation systems; demand-side management of building energy use by electric utilities; and more.

Control, Communications and Security will be three of the major themes of papers at SGEF ’14. The successful deployment of the smart grid will be dependent on numerous technology and standards developments for electronic equipment. For the smart grid to have benefits, it must be able to reliably communicate to the downstream loads and also be able to turn these loads on/off or turn them up/down as appropriate.

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