Thanks to funding provided by a company co-founded by a Purdue alumnus, Purdue University is collaborating with Rutgers and Auburn Universities to revolutionize the efficiency of electric power consumption within the United States.
The II-VI Foundation, started in 2007 by Purdue graduate Carl Johnson and his wife Margot, will provide up to one million in research grants over the next three years to the Cooperative Research Initiative.
Collaboration between these universities on this particular project has been ongoing since the ‘90s, but no formal group had been created between them. Johnson has provided funding to Purdue for the past five years and to Auburn for the past three, all focused on similar research. He decided to combine their effort into a single project under the leadership of John Williams, professor emeritus of physics at Auburn. Williams serves as the coordinator of the Cooperative Research Initiative and said it was formed with the idea that the three universities can look at the same problem and solve it using three different perspectives.
“We are known internationally for the work we have done, and all three schools bring something different to the table,” Williams said. “This technology could never have been made in the mid ‘90s, only theoretically. Our program had a breakthrough that improved the interface enough to have these devices actually created and put into the marketplace.”
The Cooperative Research Initiative is the joint effort of Purdue, Rutgers and Auburn to improve silicon carbide transistors in semiconductors. Silicon carbide transistors are in all cell phones, computers, televisions and other electronics and have dominated the market of silicon integrated circuits for the past 50 years. They are used to amplify the electric signal in the circuitry of these appliances. Thirty percent of electric power in the United States goes though these transistors, and that percentage will increase to 80 percent by 2030.
The ultimate goal of this consolidated research effort is to improve the efficiency of all power sources that are converted into electricity. If efficiency is increased even five percent as a result of these new transistors, the nation wide conservation of energy would save tremendous amounts of power.
James Cooper, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and Purdue’s principle investigator in the Cooperative Research Initiative, said the research on silicon carbide transistors is important because they are more resilient to the thousands of volts and high currents that pass through them. As the United States starts to bring in more power from solar and wind farms, these transistors will become more necessary.
“This research collaboration is a combination of innovation and making these things viable. We don’t think we have gone anywhere near these transistors’ fundamental limits,” Cooper said. “The fundamental research will improve manufacturing and have all this in industry.”