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Silicon carbide semiconductor protects from power surges

Wed, 04/24/2013 - 18:36 -- Ruth Williams

Silicon-carbide used as a semiconductor in a fault current limiter could stop rolling blackouts caused by power surges in US national grid. Researchers at the University of Arkansas have developed the device to regulate or limit the amount of excess current in the grid during a power surge.

The device has been under development for the past five years to respond faster than current materials used in the grid to ensure uninterrupted power by protecting from surges. The limiter absorbs the excess power current and regulates what it then passes through the grid.

Power surges can cause short circuits resulting in an increase in the amount of electricity taken from power sources in the grid, if there is no available power it can lead to blackouts. These can be prevented with the use of fault current limiters properly placed throughout the grid.

The researchers used silicon carbide because it is stronger and faster than other materials used in the power grid and can be used at very high voltages as well as being a thermal conductor for use at high temperatures. The Department of Energy has funded the University’s research into the use of silicon carbide.