Purdue News

May 19, 2006

Purdue part of new $21 million fluid power energy research center

Monika Ivantysynova
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Discovering ways to reduce fuel consumption, developing devices for people with mobility impairments and designing state-of-the-art rescue robots are just three of the goals of a new multimillion-dollar research center involving the Discovery Park Energy Center, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University.

The National Science Foundation announced a $15 million, five-year grant to support the new Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power. Industry partners will augment the funding with $3 million, and seven universities involved in the center will contribute an additional $3 million. The center will be based at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, and Purdue will house one of the center's research labs in its MAHA Fluid Power Laboratory.

"This center will advance fundamental knowledge, providing a platform for technology that will spawn new industries," said Lynn Preston, leader of the Engineering Research Centers Program at NSF. "We are impressed with the ambitious goals of the center for research and education and the strong partnership with industry."

Fluid power is a $33 billion industry worldwide. Industry areas include aerospace, agriculture, construction, health care, manufacturing, mining and transportation. Fluid-power technology encompasses most applications that use liquids or gases to transmit power in the form of pressurized fluid. The complexity of these systems ranges from a simple hydraulic jack used to lift a car when replacing a tire to sophisticated airplane flight control actuators that rely on high-pressure hydraulic systems.

"We are working to create the next generation of pumps and motors, which are the heart of each fluid power system," said Monika Ivantysynova, the Purdue MAHA Professor of Fluid Power Systems and a professor of mechanical engineering and agricultural and biological engineering. "We predict we can reduce the energy consumption of fluid power systems up to 30 percent by using a new generation of pumps, motors and new throttleless actuators. In the transportation sector alone, that is an annual savings of 100 million barrels of oil."

Other Purdue researchers working on the project are Luc Mongeau, professor of mechanical engineering; Steven Frankel, professor of mechanical engineering; and Steven Wereley, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

With help from the National Fluid Power Association, more than 50 companies have agreed to provide support for the research center. Seven of those companies have annual sales of more than $500 million.

Researchers at the center will study ways to use fluid power more efficiently in off-road and on-road vehicles, in manufacturing and other areas, and also will work on completely new applications, like rescue and surgery robots, Ivantysynova said. Each 10 percent improvement in the efficiency of current uses of fluid power in these industries would save about $7 billion a year in U.S. energy costs. Researchers also will work to develop hydraulic hybrid passenger cars that are less expensive and more efficient than current electric hybrids. A 10 percent improvement in efficiency in national passenger car energy use would save about $10 billion a year, Ivantysynova said.

Another research center goal is to develop portable, wearable and autonomous fluid-power devices capable of operating for long periods of time without external energy sources. This technology could lead to new medical and rehabilitation devices and robots that could be used in rescue missions.

"We are creating compact and efficient fluid-power systems that can, for the first time, be used to power underwater exploration and robots that can remotely manipulate nuclear materials," Ivantysynova said. "These new devices can also be used for wearable or compact tools for home and industrial use."

In addition to research, the center will be involved in developing youth education programs, improving efforts to increase student diversity in engineering, designing internship and exchange programs for undergraduate and graduate students, and offering short courses and labs for industry workers.

Core universities involved in the Engineering Research Center are the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Georgia Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt University. Outreach universities include the Milwaukee School of Engineering and North Carolina A&T State University. Outreach institutions include the National Fluid Power Association, Project Lead the Way and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

NSF-funded Engineering Research Centers conduct pioneering research in emerging technologies and train the next generation of engineers to be leaders in innovation. Each center, while based at one university, is a collaborative partnership drawing together individuals and resources from other universities, industry partners, and pre-college teachers and students.

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-4192, csequin@purdue.edu

Sources: Monika Ivantysynova, (765) 742-1213, mivantys@purdue.edu

Josh Chamot, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-7730

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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