Student Innovation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Aims To Improve Efficiency of Power Grids

Zepu Wang


Contact: Media Relations

March 6, 2012

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 Prize

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:

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 technology.

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 PrizeThe $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 PROGRAMCelebrating innovation, inspiring youthThe Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.

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.

For more information on the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize, visit:


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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit