NSF Grant Will Help Researchers Change Power for Data Centers from AC to DC

Juan Balda, University of Arkansas
Photo by University Relations

Juan Balda, University of Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Electrical engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas' Center for Grid-Connected Advanced Power Electronics Systems, or GRAPES, have received $300,000 – part of a $1.1 million grant to Binghamton University – from the National Science Foundation to help convert U.S. data centers from AC to DC power.

Data centers are facilities that house computer systems and components.

“U.S. data centers consume an enormous amount of electricity,” said Juan Balda, University Professor and principal investigator for the grant. “And their demand for it will only increase. GRAPES is involved in this project because we have expertise in developing power electronics systems for both AC and DC electric power distribution centers.”

U.S. data centers, which consume about 91 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually, primarily use AC, or alternating current, which, through multiple steps, is converted into different voltage levels within the data center. This process is inefficient, wasting 10 to 20 percent of the energy used in these conversions before delivering DC, or direct current, power to various components of the servers and cooling system. 

Because of these inefficiencies, segments of the data-center industry have started to investigate the advantages of using DC within data centers. DC-powered centers would provide lower power conversion losses, higher reliability and smaller equipment footprints for power conversion.

But the new system requires the development of high-efficiency DC-to-DC power converters, high-voltage switching devices, solid-state circuit breakers, and efficient power-distribution systems, as well as the ability to eventually integrate micro-grid power from renewable and/or locally generated power sources.

The GRAPES researchers will address these challenges. For this project, they will develop AC and DC electric power distribution systems for data centers, including device modeling for circuit design and simulation. Their contribution will include prototyping and testing these systems.

Researchers at the Center for Grid-Connected Advanced Power Electronics Systems work on devices and systems to accelerate the adoption and insertion of power electronics into the electric power grid. Improvements in these devices will ultimately lead to lower costs for consumers and a substantial reduction in harmful carbon emissions.

Balda holds the Twenty-First Century Leadership Chair in Engineering.

Contacts

Juan Carlos Balda, University Professor
Department of Electrical Engineering
479-575-6578, jbalda@uark.edu

Matt McGowan, science and research communications officer
University Relations
479-575-4246, dmcgowa@uark.edu


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