Power Electronics History

The origin of power electronics can be traced back to 19th century scientists and inventors; including Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla. Faraday’s 1831 transformer action demonstration and the invention of the modern transformer in the 1880s can be seen as the first power electronics demonstrations, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the first real developments in power electronics started with the development of mercury arc rectifier. Invented by Peter Cooper Hewitt in 1902 and developed for use in the 1920s and 30s, the mercury arc rectifier was used to convert high voltage/current alternating current (AC) into direct current (DC). In 1933 selenium rectifiers were invented and then developed with positive applications in radio and then later in television [1, 2].

This early 20th center development in power electronics, though groundbreaking, was limited in its capabilities and thus only a limited number of devices were manufactured. This changed in the middle of the century when in 1947 the bipolar point-contact transistor was successfully demonstrated by Walter H. Brattain and John Bardeen under the direction of William Shockley at the Bell Telephone Laboratory. Then in 1948 the invention of the bipolar junction transistor by Shockley all at once reduced the cost and size while increasing the efficiency of transistors beginning a revolution in semiconductor electronics. Shortly after, in the 1950s, semiconductor power diodes became available and started replacing vacuum tubes. Then in 1956 the Silicon Controlled Rectifier (SCR) was introduced by General Electric marking the point where semiconductor power electronics really began [2, 3].

In 1960s the switching speed of BJTs allowed for DC/DC converters to be possible in high frequency, with the MOSFET introduced in 1960. The progress of power FET had a great impact on power electronics during this time. In 1964 papers by Zuleeg and Teszner proposed that FETs were appropriate for handling high power by solving two problems, high frequency limitations and problems with high saturation currents. The frequency response was limted by higher parasitic capacitance and the current was limited by increased channel resistance. These devices were called multichannel field-effect transistors or MUCH-FET by Zuleeg. At the same time researchers in Japan were active in pursuit of high quality more cost effective devices [2, 3].

In 1950 Nishizawa and Watanabe, professors at Tokyo University, patented an analog transistor, later named the static induction transistor (SIT), that was capable of handling high power at high frequency. Throughout the 1970s many developments were made in the US and Japan in the realm of FETs and the semiconductor industry. In 1969 the Japanese Electrotechnical Laboratory discovered/invented the V-groove MOSFET. In 1976 power MOSFET becomes commercially available, coming into heavy use in industry. Then in 1982, a cheap, robust and fast device was developed with the capability to turn-off, the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT) was introduced. From the mid to late 1970s through today many different manufacturers have developed many different types of FETs, MOSFETs, and other power semiconductor devices ranging from controlled to uncontrolled to rectifiers to power modules [2, 3].

References:

  1. View PDF Here.. Retrieved March 2012.
  2. Ying-Yu Tzou. View Webpage Here. Retrieved March 2012.
  3. http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IIT%20Kharagpur/Power%20Electronics/PDF/L-1(SSG)(PE)%20((EE)NPTEL).pdf; Retrieved March 2012.

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