Power Electronics: For Next-Generation Electric Power Networks
Electric power is indispensable for our daily life. Technologies of power electronics support the efficient distribution and utilization of electric power in various places, from consumer electric appliances to industrial equipment. Typical devices found in consumer products include the switching power supplies for personal computers and the induction (IH) cooker, while examples of large capacity products include the energy-saving trains with inverters and the electric power control function of natural energy electric generation systems. A high-performance SiC power semiconductor overcomes the performance limit of electric power control which is determined by the conventional Si power semiconductors.
The electric power converters using power semiconductors are the crucial technologies which support our society through electric power supplies, industrial equipment, railways, etc. The global demand of power converters is expected to increase significantly as the world shifts to a low-carbon society, in the fields such as smart grid, and solar/wind power generation.
When we build the next generation of advanced energy networks, it is important to increase efficiency and reduce the size and weight of electric power converters. Although silicon (Si) devices used to be the mainstream in conventional electric power converters, their performance was approaching the limit. AIST therefore selected a method to overcome the difficulty of improving the efficiency while reducing the size and weight of electric power converters by using silicon carbide (SiC) devices. One example is the high-speed switching module realized by combining the Si-IEGT with the high voltage-resistant (6,000V class) SiC-PiN diode that has superior switching characteristics. This high-speed switching module was developed through the joint R&D under the collaboration among industry, academia and AIST. Today, ultra-high voltage-resistant (over 10,000V) devices for electric power networks are also being developed.