If you keep cool with the help of an air conditioner this summer, you’ll likely be benefiting from the work of National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee B. Jayant Baliga, who invented the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT). In fact, this semiconductor power switch is used in many household appliances, cars, solar panels, fluorescent lighting, medical equipment, bullet trains and more.
The IGBT is so widely used because of its outstanding efficiency. This tiny chip that controls energy usage has reduced gasoline consumption by 10% and improved energy efficiency by more than 40%.
Making a Mark in Electrical Engineering
Baliga grew up just outside of Bangalore, India. His father was a well-known electrical engineer. “My father was a very big inspiration,” Baliga shared in an interview with NIHF. “But I wanted to get out of his shadow and make my own mark in the world.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras in 1969 and then moved to the United States. “I had the dream that if I came to the United States and was successful in graduate school, I may be able to create something that would be beneficial to humanity,” said Baliga.
He did just that, earning his master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before joining General Electric (GE) in 1974, setting him on a path toward an invention that would significantly reduce energy consumption.
Saving Energy Worldwide
While working at GE’s Research and Development Center, Baliga and his colleagues were challenged by one of the company’s vice presidents to create a new technology that would be “better than all the existing technology they were using at the time,” Baliga explained. “Within a month of his request, I put together the patent disclosure on creating the IGBT.”
Baliga had created a high-voltage transistor that used a metal oxide semiconductor gate region to control a bipolar current within a single device for the first time. The three-terminal power semiconductor device combined high efficiency with fast switching.
Since its invention, the IGBT has saved consumers $24 trillion by reducing gasoline consumption by over 1.5 trillion gallons and electricity usage by over 75,000 terawatt-hours. “It adds up to over 100 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide over the last 25 years,” Baliga explained. “That is as much carbon dioxide as human activity generates in two years.”
Baliga holds more than 100 U.S. patents and is currently a Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering at North Carolina State University. He has made such an impact on energy consumption that it has been suggested that he has the smallest carbon footprint in the world. However, Baliga has a different perspective. “I believe that it’s more accurate to say that I have the largest negative carbon footprint in the world.”
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