Million Dollar Inverter

‘Red Electrical Devils’ team wins award in microsizing challenge

Everything seems to be getting smaller these days.

Image courtesy of Google.

Image courtesy of Google.

This trend is prevailing in the electronic industry, and inverters are now joining the fray.

The IEEE Power Electronics Society partnered with Google in September of 2014 to launch the $1 million Little Box Challenge in an effort to invent smaller inverters. Competitors were challenged to “figure out how to shrink an inverter down to something smaller than a small laptop” – a reduction of more than 10 times in volume. Registration began that September, technical approaches and testing applications were submitted last summer, and the 18 finalists were determined in October. These finalists then brought their inverters to a testing facility on October 21, 2015 and awaited the announcement that came last week. The winner? Belgian-based CE+T Power, competing under the team moniker ‘Red Electrical Devils’. The driving force? Power transistors from GaN Systems of Ottawa.

The Red Electrical Devils used power transistors of the gallium nitride variety provided by GaN and praised the technology as crucial in enabling them to reach a power density of 145W/in3 for the inverter design. A reduced gate drive and switching losses were achieved, helping the team reach its thermal and power density goals. Team members also expressed their pleasure at its durability through months of repeated, rigorous testing. Advocates hope the achievement will help pave the way for more powerful, compact, and efficient inverter designs, which are increasingly necessary to meet the demands of big data processing , channeling of information through mobile devices, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

Photo courtesy of CE+T Power.

Members of the Belgian-based CE+T Power team, the Red Electrical Devils, accept their six-figure prize. Photo courtesy of CE+T Power.

The Devils first presented their design at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, which was followed up by exhaustive testing by judges. The Little Box Challenge’s objective was to reach inverter power density in excess of 50W/cubic inch in a volume of under 40 cubic inches, which the Belgian team exceeded by a factor of three, producing a power density of 143W/cubic inch in 14 cubic inches, which according to Google, “is 10 times more compact than commercially available inverters.”

“Aside from facilitating electricity generated by solar and distributed energy grids, smaller inverters can help bring electricity to remote parts of the world,” Terry Dawes of cantech letter wrote on Monday.

The winner was announced at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. Over 200 teams entered the competition. For the GaN Systems team, awards are becoming a habit. It had previously won the “Start-up to Watch” award at the 2015 Global Semiconductor Alliance award ceremony in Santa Clara, California. The Ottawa-based company also has offices in the UK, Germany, Japan, and the U.S.



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