This paper presents results from an ongoing research project (SINTEF 2011) on pressure-tolerant power electronics. The main goal of the research is to provide and demonstrate solutions that enable power-electronic converters to operate in pressurized environments. Oil companies have plans for subsea processing of oil and gas. Today’s concept considers power-electronic converters in 1-bar vessels. As the depth and the converter power rating increase, these vessels become increasingly bulky and heavy. Pressure-balanced converters would allow lower vessel-wall thickness, thereby giving lower weight, and simpler cooling owing to improved heat conduction through the vessel walls. The new concept considers power-electronic converters placed in vessels completely filled with appropriate dielectric liquid able to operate at pressures from 1 bar up to several hundred bar. Dielectric fluids are required to prove their properties, especially those related to insulation, incompressibility, and heat transport. The methodology presented here considers a mechanical adaptation of components followed by various laboratory experiments for verifying or correcting the proposed solutions (Pittini et al. 2010; Hernes and Pittini 2009; Petterteig et al. 2009).
Standard off-the-shelf components and special pressure-adapted components have been subjected to various provocative pressurization tests up to 300 bar. Tests clarified the need for special adaptation of some components, while others could be used without any modification. Subsequently, a full converter phase leg has been built, submerged in dielectric liquid, and tested in full operation up to 300 bar. This phase leg is based on a press-pack insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) modified for operation at high pressure. Measurements performed at different pressures demonstrate that there is no relevant difference in terms of electrical parameters between this modified IGBT and a standard IGBT. Long-term tests proved the concept’s validity. The next step will be to test bonded IGBT technology in a high-pressure environment, and finally, we will realize a demo converter to be located at a suitable subsea site.