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Andlinger Center News

February 15, 2019

Minjie Chen, assistant professor of electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, has been awarded a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation for his work on granular power electronics at the grid edge.

Chen’s work focuses on the design of emerging power electronics that seek both higher performance and greater energy efficiency, while advancing toward a more distributed model of energy production and storage. His approach, a systematic methodology for modular design that involves advanced magnetic arrangements, has received attention for its ability to be generalized in applications across many sectors, including renewable energy, information and communications technologies, and transportation.

The award will run through 2024 and total an estimated $500,000. Prior to joining Princeton faculty, Chen received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2015 where he was also a postdoctoral research associate.


Power electronics are the key building blocks of future energy systems. Power electronics play critical roles in renewable energy integration, computing and telecommunication, grid-scale energy storage, and transportation electrification, all at the edge of the future smart grid. These emerging energy systems are usually modular and granular. This research project targets a generalized design method that will enable a new family of power electronics that can achieve high performance and perform new functions at the grid edge for a variety of applications. “Granular power electronics” represents a systematic design approach that pushes the intelligence and capability of power electronics to a granular level that has not been demonstrated before. The PI will leverage the recent advances in wide-band-gap devices, circuit architectures, and control methodologies to address the challenges of controlling sophisticated power flow, modeling magnetics with granular structures, and addressing the inverter-to-inverter oscillation problem in nano-grids with many smart inverters. The results of this project will be incorporated into the efforts that the PI is currently leading as a part of the “Campus-as-a-Lab” program to create research opportunities for undergraduate students. The outreach program for K-12 students, involving them in the development of experimental demos, will expose them to the role of power electronics in improving the quality and sustainability of our daily lives and attract them to pursue STEM careers.

The PI will perform a systematic investigation on the fundamental principles of granular and modular power electronics. The PI will (1) develop design toolkits (modules, schematics, and layout patterns) comprising switched-inductor cells, switched-capacitor cells, bridge structures, and magnetic-couplers which may serve as the basis of granular power conversion architectures, (2) establish systematic methods to evaluate the topology, select the components, control the power flow, model the magnetics, estimate the grid impedance, and perform stability analysis of granular power electronics and systems with sophisticated power flow; (3) develop open-source computer-aided-design tools for the design and control of granular power conversion architectures; and (4) build small-scale experimental systems to verify the developed methods and benefit education. The PI will use three emerging and important energy systems at the grid edge as examples – smart inverters (distributed energy generation), large scale energy systems (data center power delivery), and a nano-grid test platform for multidisciplinary energy systems research. High performance grid-interface power electronics topologies will be studied, and model-based multi-agent control strategies will be developed to enable a future smart grid with many granular power electronics at the edge.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.