MechSE professor to lead new $18.5 million NSF center

Professor Andrew Alleyne
Professor Andrew Alleyne
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. Bulldozer 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 MechSE professor Andrew Alleyne is out to pack more power into less space for electrical systems. The center is funded by the National Science Foundation and will be headquartered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 
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 Alleyne, the Ralph & Catherine Fisher Professor in MechSE. “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.”

Partner institutions
Partner institutions

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. 
“This is an opportunity to help grow world-class engineers in our own backyard, and drive collective innovation through a valuable federal and academic partnership. We look forward to sharing industry knowledge with these great researchers to help explain how these technologies could be most useful.”
The National Science Foundation began supporting Engineering Research Centers like P.O.E.T.S in 1985, to create and sustain integrated interdisciplinary research environments that advance fundamental engineering knowledge, enable technology and engineered systems, and prepare U.S. engineering graduates for success in the global economy.  Academe and industry are joined in partnership through the ERC to achieve these goals.

Hero and villain
Hero and villain

“In 1989, the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory at Illinois was launched thanks to support from the NSF Engineering Research Center program. It continues to thrive today, and still conducts more than $7.5 million in research per year,” said Provost Ilesanmi Adesida. “The massive impact of the NSF program and the centers it creates are felt by every partner, but, more importantly, they’re felt by the entire world.”
The NSF Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS) will be led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in partnership with Howard University, Stanford University and the University of Arkansas (NSF award #1449548). 
The POETS ERC aims to pack more power into less space for electrical technologies on the move by integrating novel 3-D cooling circuitry, power converters and algorithms for smart power management. Their work will enable the manufacture of lighter, more compact and more efficient power electronic systems for electric vehicles, airplanes, construction equipment, handheld tools and other mobile applications.
MechSE faculty members Bill King and Mariana Sohn will also serve key roles in the center, along with fellow Illinois faculty James Allison, Joe Lyding, Paul Braun, Phil Krein, and Robert Pilawa.
Contact: Andrew Alleyne,
Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
217/244-9993, alleyneatillinois [dot] edu

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