Student Innovation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Aims To Improve Efficiency of Power Grids
Zepu Wang Is One of Three Finalists for the
$30,000 2012 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student
Zepu Wang has developed a new advanced material to coat
electrical components and allow the transmission of higher
voltages across national power infrastructures. This new
nanocomposite material holds the promise of enabling smarter,
more reliable, and greener power systems. The technology could
also significantly reduce the frequency of power outages.
Wang, a doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and
Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute, is one of three finalists for the 2012 $30,000
Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize. A public ceremony
announcing this year’s winner will be held at 6:45 p.m. on
Wednesday, March 7, in the auditorium of the Rensselaer Center
for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. For more
information on the ceremony, visit: http://www.eng.rpi.edu/lemelson
Wang’s project is titled “Nanocomposite Filled with Graphene
Oxide—A Revolutionary Field Grading Material for High-Voltage
Power Systems,” and his faculty advisers at Rensselaer are Linda Schadler,
professor of materials science and engineering and associate
dean for academic affairs in the School of Engineering, and
Keith Nelson, professor emeritus.
Global energy demand is on the rise, as populations continue
to grow and industrialization progresses. At the same time,
there is a growing awareness and concern about repercussions of
increasing rates of carbon dioxide emissions released in the
atmosphere. This is prompting sustained attention and
investment in sustainable energy sources including wind, solar,
and hydro. One key practical challenge, however, is how the
best geographic areas for generating green power are often far
removed from the highly populated and industrial areas where
the power is most needed. This means transporting renewable
power is just as important as how it is generated.
High-voltage direct current (HVDC) power systems can
efficiently transmit large amounts of power over land and sea.
Using HVDC technology, larger and larger voltages are required
the further the power is transported. Today’s HVDC systems
generally transmit at below 800-kilovolts, but
higher-voltage—and thus longer-distance—systems are in
development around the world. A critical part of these
next-generation systems are new insulation materials capable of
handling large voltages.
Within HVDC systems, particular areas including bushings,
cable termination, and joints are often weak points prone to
electrical failure. Field grading materials are used to reduce
the stress on these weak points. Wang has developed a new field
grading material that offers several advantages to those
commonly used today. His patent-pending material is a composite
of polymers and graphene, the thinnest material known to
science. Wang’s device requires less costly nanomaterials,
exhibits significantly better field grading effects, and has
shown to be more durable and less susceptible to overheating
than commercial devices.
Overall, Wang’s innovation could lead to entirely new
designs for systems that carry more sustainably generated power
over longer distances with minimal energy loss. He has been
working with Swiss firm ABB to further test and develop his
When he’s not in the lab, Wang can be found taking
photographs or playing the piano. He also loves travelling to
see different parts of the world. Wang’s wife, Shumiao, a
graduate student in the School of Education at the State
University of New York, has been very supportive of his
research and pursuit of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer
Student Prize. Wang’s parents, in his hometown of Chengdu in
central China, are also pulling for him to the competition.
They encouraged him when he was young to follow his passion and
become an engineer.
Wang received his bachelor’s degree in materials science and
engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. He
expects to earn his doctoral degree from Rensselaer later this
year, and plans to continue his advanced materials research in
a corporate environment.
About the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student
The $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize is funded
through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program, which has
awarded the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize to outstanding
student inventors at MIT since 1995.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
Celebrating innovation, inspiring
The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators and
inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers
Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific
inventors, and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT
Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994.
It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the
School of Engineering. The Foundation sparks, sustains, and
celebrates innovation and the inventive spirit. It supports
projects in the U.S. and developing countries that nurture
innovators and unleash invention to advance economic, social,
and environmentally sustainable development. To date The
Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than U.S.
$150 million in support of its mission. http://web.mit.edu/invent/
For more information on the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer
Student Prize, visit:
Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161