Jessica Boles, MIT: “Piezoelectrics as a New Frontier for Miniaturizing Power Electronics”

Position: PhD Candidate

Current Institution: MIT

Abstract: Piezoelectrics as a New Frontier for Miniaturizing Power Electronics

Miniaturized power electronic systems have the potential to revolutionize technologies in transportation energy systems manufacturing healthcare information technology and many more far-reaching applications. However such miniaturization is fundamentally bottlenecked by passive components particularly magnetics which have long been integral to power electronics but pose inherent size and performance challenges at small scales. One emerging alternative passive component technology positioned to enable miniaturized power conversion is piezoelectrics which store energy in the mechanical compliance and inertia of a piezoelectric material. Piezoelectrics offer several potential performance form factor and manufacturability advantages to power electronics and – unlike magnetics – exhibit favorable intrinsic scaling capabilities for miniaturization. Accordingly this presentation explores how we can leverage piezoelectrics to substantially miniaturize power electronics. This requires fundamental re-evaluation of both power electronic circuits and piezoelectric components themselves which are not compatible in their traditional forms. We first establish dc-dc power converter circuit topologies and control strategies that efficiently utilize piezoelectric resonators or piezoelectric transformers as sole passive components. These converter implementations yield the highest experimental efficiencies to date for power converters based on only piezoelectric resonators (>99%) and piezoelectric transformers (>90%) demonstrating the efficiency viability of piezoelectric-based power conversion. We then establish piezoelectric component design strategies for maximizing power density and efficiency capabilities. The resulting piezoelectric components require order-of-magnitude smaller volumes than magnetic components serving analogous applications suggesting significant miniaturization opportunity. These are important steps in realizing piezoelectric-based power conversion as a fundamentally friendlier path to miniaturization which is critical for advancing technologies constrained by size weight or cost. Thus piezoelectric-based power electronic systems are positioned to enable a wide variety of applications including portable electronics robotics medical devices and IoT devices along with low-power automotive aerospace and renewable energy systems.


Jessica Boles is a Ph.D. candidate in the Power Electronics Research Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she leads a research team focused on piezoelectric-based power conversion. She previously received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Her research interests span power electronic circuits components and control with an emphasis on miniaturization. Boles is a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship the MIT Collamore-Rogers Fellowship and the UTK Bodenheimer Fellowship. Her work has received a Best Paper Award at the 2019 IEEE Workshop on Control and Modeling for Power Electronics and presentation awards at the NSF Engineering Research Centers Perfect Pitch Competition the IEEE Applied Power Electronics Conference and Exposition and the MIT Microsystems Annual Research Conference. For service she has received the MIT EECS Department Head Special Recognition Award.