Power surge: ONR, energy efficiency in the spotlight
A scientist sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) has been named to the National Academy of Inventors for groundbreaking work in energy efficiency using Gallium Nitride (GaN)–with resulting improvements in everything from warfighter communications to hybrid cars.
Dr. Umesh Mishra, at the University of California-Santa Barbara, is a pioneer in research to reduce the amount of energy lost as electrical currents pass through commonly used but inefficient voltage adaptors–where much of the current dissipates as heat. His innovative use of GaN, a semiconductor compound, in materials and electric devices has already made dramatic impacts for Sailors and Marines.
"The world has to waste less energy while it powers its needs for the next century," he said. "This includes communications, the Internet and transportation, to name a few.
"To provide our nation's defenders with an unfair advantage we need to provide them with the very best performance systems for communications, computation and detection–while being compact and lightweight," he added. "GaN provides this at a reasonable cost."
ONR has supported Mishra's research for two decades, and his accomplishments in advancing energy efficiency have become significant for the warfighter and the nation, experts say.
Dr. Paul Maki, ONR program officer for electronic devices, notes that Mishra's GaN research has already improved air and missile defense radar, broadband electronic warfare platforms and other GaN-based devices relying on radio-frequency technology.
"Gallium Nitride is being deployed in the Navy right now," Maki said. "GaN precision electronics more accurately control switching waveforms–and the end result is greater efficiencies."
The Navy and Marine Corps are particularly interested in improved energy efficiency as new and powerful weapon systems like lasers and electronic railguns advance, both of which demand significant shipboard power capabilities for firing and cooling.
In addition, Maki notes, longer battery life–another benefit of new uses for GaN–will be critical for unmanned vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles.
"It's these improvements in energy efficiencies that have gotten him this well-deserved recognition," he said of Mishra. "He has been very supportive of naval science and technology."
Maki said Mishra has led a series of successful multidisciplinary university research initiatives funded by ONR. As Mishra's research advanced, the frequency performance required for naval platforms improved by a factor of 20–and the power output/power density improved by five times.
Mishra said ONR's sustained support for long-term research was essential to the success of his results.
"I cannot emphasize enough how important is the sustained support that ONR provides in a mission-oriented framework," he said. "This has been critical for GaN and it is an absolute fact that without ONR support, GaN development in the U.S. would have been second rate, if that."
Election to the National Academy of Inventors is considered a prestigious professional distinction, awarded to innovative academic inventors whose work has made a noteworthy impact on quality of life, economic development and societal welfare.
While Mishra's GaN-inspired work on power conversion will be key for the future force, the corollary impact on data servers, solar inverters and electric and hybrid motor drives will have broad impact across society.