High-Power Gas Tube Switches

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OPEN 2012
Fairfield, Connecticut
Project Term:
04/30/2013 - 07/31/2017

Critical Need:

In today's increasingly electrified world, power conversion—the process of converting electricity between different currents, voltage levels, and frequencies—forms a vital link between the electronic devices we use every day and the sources of power required to run them. Power converters modify electrical energy to a usable current, voltage, and frequency for an electronic device. Today's power converters are large and inefficient because they are based on decades-old technologies and rely on expensive, bulky components. Within the next 20 years, 80% of the electricity used in the U.S. will flow through these devices, so there is a critical need to improve their size and efficiency.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

General Electric (GE) Global Research is developing a new gas tube switch that could significantly improve and lower the cost of utility-scale power conversion. A switch breaks an electrical circuit by interrupting the current or diverting it from one conductor to another. To date, solid state semiconductor switches have completely replaced gas tube switches in utility-scale power converters because they have provided lower cost, higher efficiency, and greater reliability. GE is using new materials and innovative designs to develop tubes that not only operate well in high-power conversion, but also perform better and cost less than non-tube electrical switches. A single gas tube switch could replace many semiconductor switches, resulting in more cost effective high power converters.

Potential Impact:

If successful, GE’s new gas tube switches would significantly lower the system cost of very high-power electrical grid applications, transforming electric power transmission in the U.S.


This project could contribute to a smarter, more advanced, more reliable, and more secure electric grid.


More efficient power converters could help reduce U.S. electricity consumption, and in turn reduce the harmful emissions created by coal-fired power plants.


Efficient and affordable grid-scale power converters could help lower power bills for average consumers.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Isik Kizilyalli
Project Contact:
Dr. Timothy Sommerer
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of Wisconsin
PPPL: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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