Heat is the enemy for people designing cars, construction machinery, aircraft, and mobile electronics. When their electrical systems do more work, they get hotter. When they get too hot, they operate inefficiently, fail, or even melt. Your cordless drill won’t fire up. Tractor buckets don’t lift. Planes are grounded. Electric cars sit on the side of the road.
A new, $18.5 million Engineering Research Center led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in partnership with Howard University, University of Arkansas, and Stanford University is out to pack more power into less space for electrical systems. The center is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Called P.O.E.T.S., the Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems center will attack the thermal and electrical challenges surrounding mobile electronics and vehicle design as a single system. Partners from around the world will build new technologies like three-dimensional thermal circuitry for cooling, next-generation power converters, and algorithms for coordinating the technologies automatically. They will look at those technologies from the microchip level all the way up to an entire vehicle.
“We want to increase the total power density in vehicles by 10 to 100 times. That would translate into billions of liters of fuel saved and nearly double an electric car’s range,” said Andrew Alleyne, the center’s director and the Ralph and Catherine Fisher Professor at the Univeristy of Illinois.
“Today’s electrical technologies are at their thermal limit. A systems approach is the only way we’ll push beyond the current state of the art.”
More than a dozen companies across the United States will also take part, testing the ideas and hiring students trained through P.O.E.T.S. The center will also engage with school districts to transition the breakthrough interdisciplinary STEM concepts to K-12 classrooms and inspire young people to pursue careers in these fields.
“As part of the Caterpillar team, it’s a privilege to work on electric drives as part of my day job and also serve on the Industrial Advisory Board for the P.O.E.T.S project,” said Bryan Lammers, a technical manager who also leads heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar’s involvement with the program.