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  5. Focus on new faculty: Sarlioglu seeks more effective, sustainable power systems

Focus on new faculty: Sarlioglu seeks to bolster the efficiency of electrical systems

Engineering Professional Development Assistant Professor Bulent Sarlioglu
Engineering Professional Development Assistant Professor Bulent Sarlioglu

Just a few decades ago, the field of power electronics and motor drives was in its infancy. Today, advances in materials, computing technology, and new high-power semiconductors reveal amazing potential, not just for implementing new technology, but for saving vast amounts of energy.

“We have tremendous opportunities for research,” says Engineering Professional Development Assistant Professor Bulent Sarlioglu, who joined the college in summer 2011. “We are making meaningful contributions to emerging technologies such as electric vehicles and sustainable energy.” 

He recently became an associate director of the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium (WEMPEC), an internationally renowned university-industry consortium with more than 80 member companies and institutions from around the world.

Sarlioglu graduated from Istanbul Technical University in 1990. He earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1992 and a PhD from UW-Madison in 1999. Sarlioglu, who also holds an appointment in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, teaches ECE 901, Controls of Electric Drives for Wind Turbines, and ECE 905, Power Electronic Systems for Sustainable Energy. 

Breakthroughs in wide-bandgap power semiconductor devices open the door for extremely efficient conversion, which leads to higher vehicle mileage and less air pollution associated with electricity generation. Sarlioglu’s research group is exploring promising approaches for applying the wide bandgap devices to achieve the highest possible improvement in power conversion efficiency. 

“We also work to make things smaller,” he says. “Reducing volume and weight are critical objectives for applications such as aerospace, where superior reliability, low weight, and high efficiency are key system requirements.”

Before joining the UW-Madison faculty, Sarlioglu worked 11 years at the Honeywell International aerospace division, helping to design electrical systems for the Airbus A380 and A350 aircraft and carrying out advanced technology demonstration programs for other innovative aircraft, including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. 

The 787 serves as a good example of just how far electric power conversion, motor drives and power system architectures have come. This new composite-body aircraft relies on electrical systems far more than any other commercial airliner ever has.

“In a typical airliner, you tap into one of the compressor stages of the engine and process the air to achieve cabin pressurization, heating and cooling,” Sarlioglu says. “In the 787, it’s all done electrically. There is no tapping into the compressor stage, which increases the aircraft fuel efficiency. Instead, we use an electrically driven compressor with power electronics to pressurize the cabin and regulate the temperature. Optimization of the weight, volume and efficiency of the power electronic converters is key for success. ”

Sarlioglu also sees great potential in designing advanced power converters for renewable energy applications. He believes it won’t be long before new materials and designs will not only enhance wind and solar power, but also will make possible large-scale harvesting of ocean wave energy. “Offshore wind and ocean-wave energy systems are very promising,” he says. 

A 2007 study by the Electric Power Research Institute estimates wave power could supply 10 percent of U.S. electrical demand. The challenge for Sarlioglu and his research team is to use modern materials and devices to design efficient power conversion systems that will make this new energy-capture technology economically viable.

Jim Beal