Dong Dong, assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award to develop a high-voltage, electromagnetic noise-contained, high-frequency power converter platform.

Dong said the funds for this particular research could not have come at a better time. 

“Developing more efficient and compact power electronics systems is very critical at this moment because we are seeing more consumers and industries move toward green energy in almost every aspect of their daily lives,” Dong said. “For example, in the energy sector, wind and solar energy are becoming more prominent with the help of large-scale energy storage like battery and hydrogen. And on the transportation side, companies are moving away from the combustion engine to the battery-powered electric motor. All of these need more effective power electronics converter and system technologies to create improved flow and form of electric energy.”

Until now, most of the focus on high-frequency power electronics has been in the low-voltage space. However, to deliver and process higher electric power, increased voltage or current is needed. So to increase efficiency of larger power systems like those found in the electrical grid, ships, and aircraft, Dong and his team will focus primarily on the medium-voltage and high-voltage application of this technological research. 

“If we want to realize electrification to reduce the carbon emissions and to really make all of these big industries green, we cannot avoid the high-voltage space,” said the Center for Power Electronics Systems faculty member. “We have to get there by developing high-voltage but also high-frequency power electronics technologies. That is what we are really trying to do here.”

Dong appreciates the opportunities that this five-year award will provide him from a research perspective.

The CAREER award is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for early-career faculty with the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their organization.

“This is a long-term award, so I can really focus and dive into the fundamentals,” Dong said. “It gives us time to develop some disruptive solutions and technologies and will also allow us the opportunity to collaborate with semiconductor experts, power systems experts, and other industry partners for a true multidisciplinary approach.

Dong emphasized the importance of making these new high-voltage, high-frequency power converter platforms modular. Currently, when industries need to build a very large power conversion system, they start from scratch to accommodate that particular product or design. However, because the technology is evolving so fast, the timeline for designing, creating, and testing these large-scale components is too long.

“In my opinion, making these large components specific to each medium-voltage or high-voltage application is an outdated process,” Dong said. “It is nearly impossible to meet the fast-changing market and industry requirements, so we want to replace the idea of using very large pieces of hardware with smaller pieces that are modular, have identical functions, and can interface with each other.”

Dong described the modules as building blocks that can stack together and create components of all different sizes and levels of power. The modular approach also addresses the challenges associated with high-frequency operation. He said industries can “stack them up” based on what is needed for that specific product or industry requirement. 

Another benefit to these more efficient and compact modules is the ability to use them in multiple applications. 

“This technology will allow us to streamline supply chains,” he said. “Right now, we see the supply chain disruptions, but if we modularize the components, they can be shared with other industries like industrial and consumer electronics and IT due to the similar materials being used.”

Overall, a smaller system makes for more efficient use among industry partners and in applications like the renewable energy grid, electric vehicle fast-charging systems, and distribution systems for large ships, aircraft, and more. 

In addition to funding research, the grant will allow the team to develop activities and educational programming for graduate and undergraduate students, which includes the development of new courses centered on power conversion and power electronics. 

Dong also will collaborate with Virginia Tech’s Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity to engage in outreach to students in K-12 and underrepresented groups, including several pre-college summer academic experiences. One of those summer programs, the Imagination Program, is a week-long summer day camp for rising seventh- and eighth-graders from the New River and Roanoke valleys. Dong’s research team has designed a learning module called “Direct Current (DC) vs. Alternating Current (AC)” that will introduce basic electrical engineering history and concepts to promote the STEM field. 

“Engaging with these young students is probably the most important part of this project,” Dong said. “If we can create interest in these new advancements and get students to think, ‘it is something I’d like to do in my future career,’ we can build a pipeline of engineers who are ready to further these technologies for generations to come.”

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