U receives $16M for fluid power research

Fluid power is created by the pressurization of gases or liquids and has many applications.

by Brent Renneke

A University of Minnesota research facility looking to transform the fluid power industry received a $16 million grant renewal Monday from the National Science Foundation. The four-year grant will be given to the Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, ensuring the center will continue research into improving fluid powerâÄôs overall efficiency and effectiveness. The grant from the NSF is the centerâÄôs major source of funding, according to Kim Stelson, center director and professor in the department of mechanical engineering. Fluid power accounts for approximately 4 percent of the United StatesâÄô total energy consumption, according to Stelson. Fluid power is generated by the pressurization of fluids. When using a liquid, it is called hydraulics. When using a gas, it is called pneumatics. William Durfee, education co-director at the center and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the funding allows the center to continue with its goal. âÄúOur objective is to make fluid power systems more efficient and create revolutionary applications in systems that are small,âÄù Durfee said. The University is not alone in this endeavor, as six other universities are involved at the center. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University, Vanderbilt University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and North Carolina A&T State University are also involved. âÄúSome of the leading engineering institutions in the country are all collaborating on this project,âÄù Durfee said. With this teamwork, Stelson said one of the things they hope to perfect is a hydraulic system currently being tested in garbage trucks. With a vehicle as heavy as a garbage truck, constant braking results in a large amount of wasted energy, according to Stelson. Stelson said fluid power has made it possible to harness the wasted energy for when the truck starts its movement again. People from the fluid power industry are working on projects like these with the seven institutions. Although the NSF funding requires collaboration with industry partners, Durfee said the center goes above and beyond this obligation. âÄúEssentially every major part of the fluid industry is involved here because everything going on here is part of their future,âÄù Durfee said. Brad Bohlmann, external funding director at the center, said collaboration from industry partners is crucial for another reason. Bohlmann said NSF funding, which began in 2006, lasts for 10 years, and the renewal will ensure the center gains funding for the full period. However, Bohlmann said that starting in year nine, funding begins to decrease and industry partner funds are important in making up for this loss. âÄúWe are going to need some funds to maintain the level of research going on here,âÄù Bohlmann said. Bohlmann said the center will reach to industries to acquire the funding for the continuance of the center after NSF funding. Although extra funding will be needed down the road, Bohlmann said the renewal of the grant adds to the centerâÄôs reputation. âÄúIt is a stamp of approval that is recognized throughout the academic and technical community,âÄù Bohlmann said.