Metacapacitors For LED Lighting and Electric Power Conversion

November 30, 2011 | News

Electric power conversion in today’s energy economy
In today’s increasingly electrified economy, power conversion–converting electricity between different levels of voltage and current–forms the vital link between sources of electric power and the loads they serve. Trends including renewable energy integration, distributed energy generation and storage, in-building direct current (DC) power, DC microgrids, and deployment of energy-efficient technology including solid state lighting all indicate the growing prominence of DC power, and thus a growing need for DC-DC power conversion.

The market for DC-DC converters is large and is expected to grow to $4.3Bn by 2016. However progress in DC-DC converter design has been incremental. Switched-mode power supplies, heavily reliant on bulky and expensive transformers and failure-prone electrolytic capacitors, continue to dominate. A clear opportunity exists for DC-DC conversion technology offering a significant improvement over existing technologies.

Recent prototype 15 W LED driver constructed from off-the-shelf discrete capacitors and power switches achieves 92% powertrain efficiency.

A new approach to DC-DC power conversion

The Metacapacitors team is developing breakthrough technology for DC-DC conversion using switched-capacitor circuits paired with a new class of high-frequency power handling capacitors. In a Metacapacitors DC-DC converter, control and power switching are combined in a single integrated circuit, while energy storage is provided by an inexpensive network of printed capacitors developed using proprietary technology.

Metacapacitors DC-DC converters offer significant advantages over switched-mode power supplies including:

  • Lower cost by using inexpensive printed capacitor networks, reducing component count and eliminating costly custom transformers
  • Longer lifetime by avoiding the use of failure-prone electrolytic capacitors
  • Smaller form factor by eliminating bulky transformers, inductors, and electrolytic capacitors, and by employing high-frequency switching for greater power density
  • Greater efficiency by using proprietary low-loss capacitor materials and reducing transistor switching losses

With funding from the United States Department of Energy’s prestigious ARPA-E program, the Metacapacitors team is developing advanced drivers for energy efficient LED lighting. Other targeted applications include micro-inverters for solar photovoltaic systems, power management for mobile devices, and in-building DC distribution systems.