Power electronics team pushes toward more efficient and compact fusion energy

Wednesday, Sep 9, 2020
by Department of Electrical Engineering

Researchers from electrical engineering will contribute to a $29 million initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy to prepare a commercially viable fusion-energy system that will connect the eventual core technology to the market.

The Princeton University team, led by Minjie Chen, assistant professor of electrical engineering and the Andlinger center for Energy and the Environment, will develop high-efficiency and compact power amplifiers to control the  operation of fusion-energy systems. The technology is based on wide-bandgap semiconductor devices, which can operate at much higher frequencies and temperatures than conventional devices made of silicon.

Fusion power plants, which will release energy by fusing atoms instead of splitting them as is currently done in nuclear energy, will need a wide variety of efficient, fast, and powerful electrical drivers for controlling plasma, according to a DOE statement. By addressing this gap in the technology, the devices Chen's team proposed could speed up the development of fusion systems and reduce their eventual cost of electricity.

Recent alumnus Eric Ham and junior Cindy Li, both electrical engineering students, made key contributions to the proposal.

The team was awarded $1.1 million for their project, in partnership with Princeton Fusion Systems, United Silicon Carbide Inc., and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Theirs was one of 14 projects awarded funding by the Galvanizing Advances in Market-Aligned Fusion for an Overabundance of Watts, or GAMOW, part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).