Electrical engineer earns NSF CAREER Award to improve renewable energy conversion process
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
MANHATTAN — A Kansas State University electrical engineer is leading the charge to improve renewable energy.
Behrooz Mirafzal, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, Award for his proposal, "Toward Grid-Interactive Converters with Diagnostic, Remedial, and Lifetime Prognostic Features for the Next Generation of Power Grids."
He was awarded $400,000 to continue his research on renovating grid-interactive DC to AC solid-state converters into smart devices. According to Mirafzal, the short lifespan and maintenance cost of the grid-tied converters is an obstacle to increasing energy production from renewable sources such as wind and solar power.
"If we are going to have more wind and solar power in our energy infrastructure, the number of grid-tied converters will need to increase," Mirafzal said. "The converters have a relatively short lifetime. If you distribute those without thinking of including diagnostic, self-healing and lifetime prognostic features to the existing technology, you are basically distributing components in the system that can negatively impact the reliability and the robustness of the whole system."
Mirafzal is developing the converters to have an early detection or self-healing mechanism, which is a long-term research plan of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.
"Right now we have sensors in the converters that detect when something has gone bad. But we want to know before that happens, while it is still working, to give us time to plan for remedial actions," Mirafzal said. "Just like we may not feel we have high cholesterol, but when the doctor takes the blood test, it can be detected and corrected before something more serious happens."
The feature would give energy companies timely notice to provide a back-up power supply if a device is shut down for maintenance or to prevent unneeded shutdowns for inspections by letting technicians know there are no problems detected.
"Compared to the other components of the system, the converters between the energy source and grid are the least reliable," Mirafzal said. "With sensors inside, we can use information to find out if something is wrong and what we can do to extend the life until we can repair them. We don't want a surprise failure."
Mirafzal is the director of the university's power electronics laboratory. Part of his award proposal is to include both graduate and undergraduate students into his research and promote a power electronics curriculum at the university.
"With this monetary support I can move ahead with my research plans at a faster rate," Mirafzal said. "I can recruit doctoral and master's degree students, as well as undergrads."