Two Sandia engineers examine a wafer will an array of diodes

Record-Breaking, Ultrafast Devices Step to Protecting the Grid from EMPs

April 6, 2022 8:00 am Published by

New Sandia diode can shunt excess electricity in a few billionths of a second

Scientists from Sandia National Laboratories have announced a tiny, electronic device that can shunt excess electricity within a few billionths of a second while operating at a record-breaking 6,400 volts — a significant step towards protecting the nation’s electric grid from an electromagnetic pulse.

The team published the fabrication and testing results of their device on March 10 in the scientific journal IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices. The team’s ultimate goal is to provide protection from voltage surges, which could lead to months-long power interruptions, with a device that operates at up to 20,000 volts. For comparison, a household electric dryer uses 240 volts of electricity.

An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, can be caused by natural phenomena, such as solar flares, or human activity, such as a nuclear detonation in the atmosphere. An EMP causes huge voltages in a few billionths of a second, potentially affecting and damaging electronic devices over large swaths of the country.

EMPs are unlikely, said Bob Kaplar, manager of a semiconductor device research group at Sandia, but if one were to occur and damage the huge transformers that form the backbone of our electric grid, it could take months to replace them and re-establish power to the affected portion of the nation.

“The reason why these devices are relevant to protecting the grid from an EMP is not just that they can get to high voltage — other devices can get to high voltage — but that they can respond in a couple billionths of a second,” Kaplar said. “While the device is protecting the grid from an EMP, it’s at a very high voltage and thousands of amps are going through it, which is a huge amount of power. A material can only handle so much power for a certain amount of time, but we think the material in our diode has some advantages over other materials.”

Read the complete news release.

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