Progress toward a more reliable and efficient national power grid began at the University of Arkansas as construction began on the College of Engineering’s National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission. When completed, the 7,000-square-foot facility will have a 6.5-megawatt power capacity for testing components rated up to 15 kilovolts and will be the only facility of its kind in the United States.

“This facility will be the hub of advanced power electronics research and education in mid-America and will help address the growing shortage of engineers in this field over the next decade,” said Alan Mantooth, University of Arkansas professor of electrical engineering and center director.

The center will house equipment and researchers, including faculty members and graduate students, who will design, test and package electronic systems for future commercial use in the power grid. Solid-state equipment, made partially of silicon carbide, will replace obsolete electromechanical devices.

Mantooth conceived the idea for the center after the 2003 Northeast blackout. He knew that the university had a critical concentration of researchers that, for many years, had investigated silicon-carbide.

The new equipment will improve response time and increase reliability of the grid as well as to help localize outages, which did not happen in the 2003 blackout. According to Mantooth, silicon-carbide is a superior material for several reasons, aside from its strength and ability to respond quickly to power interruptions. Its properties allow an extremely high-voltage capability. It is also a good thermal conductor, which means it can operate at high temperatures and does not require extra equipment to remove heat.    EC