Engineering at Illinois launches
$18.5 million center for power optimization in mobile electronics
October 15, 2015 | A new, $18.5 million Engineering Research Center led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is out to pack more power into less space for the electrical systems. Called P.O.E.T.S., the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems will attack the thermal and electrical challenges surrounding mobile electronics and vehicle design as a single system. P.O.E.T.S. is funded by the National Science Foundation. France Córdova, who leads the NSF, joined industry partners and members of the Illinois congressional delegation for the center's official launch on October 15.
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.
The Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (P.O.E.T.S.) 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’ll 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 Ralph & Catherine Fisher Professor in Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering. Alleyne will lead P.O.E.T.S. as the center's director.
“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.
“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.
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.
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. The NSF Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization of 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).
IN THE NEWS: The News-Gazette, "POETS May Change the World" (10/15/2015)