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NSF awards $55.5M to support 3 new Engineering Research Centers; one focused on power electronics

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested $55.5 million in three new Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) to create novel technology platforms and transform industries. One of these, the Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS), aims to enhance or increase the electric power density available in tightly constrained mobile environments by changing the design. The work will enable the manufacture of lighter, more compact and more efficient power electronic systems for cars, airplanes, construction equipment, handheld tools and other mobile applications.

POETS uses system level analysis tools to identify barriers to increased power density. Design tools will be used to create optimal system-level and subsystem-level designs. Novel algorithm tools will address the multi-physics nature of the integrated electro-thermal problem via structural optimization.

Once barriers are identified, POETS will cultivate enabling technologies to overcome them. The operation of these systems necessitates development of heterogeneous decision tools that exploit multiple time scale hierarchies and are not suitable for real-time use. Implementation of these management approaches requires new 3D power electronics architectures that surpass current 2D designs.

The thermal management will be tightly coupled with new 3D electronic systems designs using topology optimization for power electronics, storage, etc. The new designs will tightly interweave elements such as solid state thermal switches and modular multi-length scale elements; i.e. spreaders, storage units, phase change and mass flow system interacting with convection units.

Fundamental research advances will support development of the 3D component technologies. New materials systems will be developed by manipulating nanostructures to provide tunable directionality for in plane and out-of-plane thermal power flows. These will be coupled with micro- and nano-scale thermal routing based on new conduction/convection systems. Buffers made from phase change material will be integrated into these systems to augment classes of autonomic materials with directed power flow actuation. Novel tested systems will integrate the system knowledge enabling technologies and fundamental breakthrough into modular demonstrations.

POETS will be led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in partnership with Howard University, Stanford University and the University of Arkansas.

The two other new ERCs are:

  • Off-grid drinking water. The NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT) will pursue high-performance and easy-to-deploy water treatment systems that can turn both wastewater and seawater into clean drinking water. The modular treatment systems, which will need less energy and fewer chemicals, will safely enlist the selective properties of reusable engineered nanomaterials to provide clean water at any location or scale.

    NEWT will be led by Rice University in partnership with Arizona State University, the University of Texas at El Paso and Yale University.

  • Nature-inspired soil engineering. The NSF Engineering Research Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG) will investigate natural underground biological processes to engineer the ground in ways that reduce construction costs and environmental impacts, while mitigating natural hazards and existing environmental degradation. Transformational new ground engineering methods will improve the sustainability and resiliency of civil infrastructure systems, including bridges, buildings, underground construction and resource exploration.

    CBBG will be led by Arizona State University in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology, New Mexico State University, and the University of California, Davis

The NSF ERCs collaborate with international university partners and American technology companies to conduct translational research and prepare US engineering students to participate in the global economy.

Including these three new fiscal year 2015 awards, NSF supports 20 ERCs in the areas of advanced manufacturing; biotechnology and health care; energy, sustainability and infrastructure; and microelectronics, sensing and information technology.


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