The Energy Efficiency theme at the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research is extremely diverse, spanning a wide array of disciplines. Research areas in this theme include: 1) Developing new, more efficient power electronics, both at the system and component levels; 2) optimizing existing manufacturing processes to use less energy, increase yield, and improve safety; 3) investigating new technologies to reduce building energy use through thermal energy storage, "smart" insulation, and advanced HVAC controls; and 4) reducing the cost of existing energy efficient lighting technologies such as LEDs. The center currently explores five research thrusts in this area.
The ever increasing demand for more efficient, reliable, and compact electronic devices is driving
the development of new materials and architectures. Wide bandgap (WBG) materials are
commonly seen as the next generation of semiconductors after silicon for high power
applications due to their high carrier mobilities and critical fields, enabling faster switching
speeds, higher operating voltages, and improved efficiency. The two most prominent emerging
materials in the constantly evolving field of power electronics are silicon carbide and gallium
nitride. Architectures based on both of these materials offer significant advantages over their
silicon-based counter parts, but still fall well short of the potential offered by diamond. Material
properties such as high thermal conductivity, breakdown field and bulk carrier mobility, low
dielectric constant, radiation tolerance, and ability to operate at elevated temperatures make
diamond arguably the most ideal semiconducting material. The CCRER is currently exploring
these next generation of semiconducting materials in an effort to create new architectures able
to address the shortfalls of silicon for years to come. This involves the development of new
materials and their combination with existing processes.
Smart Manufacturing Institute – Conn Center is an active member of the $70M clean energy
smart manufacturing innovation institute (CESMII). The goal of this institute is to develop smart
control systems involving sensors for either reducing energy consumption or improving
productivity. As part of this effort, large energy intensive manufacturing industries are surveyed
to understand whether they will benefit from the implementation of SMTM platform-based
sensors and controls. Conn Center’s team has a $1M project to develop a smart control system
for cement manufacturing. Almost all cement manufacturing organizations have shown interest
in this effort.
RAPID Institute – This is a $70M institute focused on process intensification for legacy industries.
Many legacy industrial processes involve several steps for manufacturing. Modernization of such
industrial processes is possible through intensification of various steps. Conn Center is a member
of this institute headed by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AICHE). Outcomes could have direct impact on modernization of regional industry and enable definition of interesting technological challenges for consideration that could also lead to new startup companies providing services to the large companies.
Under Glen Prater (PI)’s leadership, the University of Louisville established and operates a multi-institution Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) for Efficient Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation Systems (EV-STS) as one of two charter sites (Arizona State University hosts the second charter site). Such a center is needed to support the U.S. automotive/ground transportation industry's efforts to meet demanding new federal regulations governing vehicle fuel economy and emissions, as well as society's expectations for improved sustainability in economic and personal activities. The EV-STS center will engage the industry's critical stakeholders - vehicle manufacturers, component and system suppliers, fleet operators, ground transportation industry infrastructure providers, and state and local governments - in identifying important efficiency/sustainability related problems and formulating a research program that develops innovative solutions.
The mission of the EV-STS center and its UofL site is to leverage collaborations among corporate, government, and academic partners to conduct and disseminate industry-relevant research on technologies and tools that facilitate the design, manufacture, deployment, and operation of energy efficient, environmentally sustainable ground vehicles. The scope of this mission includes passenger cars, light- and heavy duty trucks, and motorized off-road equipment. It encompasses both vehicle-level technologies, and the infrastructure and transportation systems that incorporate ground vehicles. The mission is divided into four primary thrust areas: 1) powertrains for full-electric vehicles and the entire continuum of electric-hybrid powertrains, including batteries, electric machines, power electronics, thermal management, packaging, etc.; 2) advanced internal combustion engines and alternative fuels; 3) non-powertrain vehicle systems; and 4) ground transportation systems and infrastructure. Within EV-STS, the UofL site will have a research focus on realizing sustainable ground vehicles. Site-specific topic areas include advanced batteries for use in electrified vehicles, lightweight structures, high performance computing tools for vehicle architecture optimization, emission and greenhouse gas reduction in internal combustion engines, and frictional loss management.
Under Professor Mark McGinley’s leadership, Conn Center pursues holistic building system performance research. This research includes participation in the 2013 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, innovative advanced building envelope materials, thermal ground storage, geothermal energy harvesting, cost effective energy efficient design of schools, and cost effective energy efficient design of low-rise industrial and commercial building configurations. Faculty associated with the Conn Center also evaluate energy systems of existing buildings and conduct demonstration projects evaluating energy-related technologies such as condensing heat exchangers and thermal mass effects of night-time ventilation.
Under Professor Delaina Amos’s leadership, Conn Center pursues inorganic QDOT-based lighting research toward developing scalable manufacturing of low cost lighting technologies.