AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded a $10 million grant by the U.S. Navy as one of the major researchers in a $52 million, five-year program to develop the science and technology toward design of the world’s most capable electric ship.
The funding is provided by The Office of Naval Research and involves a consortium of other research institutions, including Florida State University, Mississippi State University and the University of South Carolina. They will work together to build the nation’s future electric ships to be faster, cleaner and more versatile than today’s fleet.
Research by The University of Texas at Austin will focus on power systems for the ships, including the generation, conversion, storage, control and distribution of electricity, said Dr. Robert Hebner, the university’s technical coordinator for the program. He said a particular emphasis of the university’s work will be how to design power systems expected to dynamically reconfigure themselves to compensate for unexpected damage. This is a critical issue for a ship that might suffer battle damage. The work also is expected to influence the design of power systems that must keep power flowing to critical loads in civilian applications, he said.
Hebner said that while the focus is on power systems, much of the system performance will result from the introduction of emerging electromechanical technology. The University of Texas at Austin is a leader in the development of high-performance, intelligent, electromechanical systems, which on this project would include the thousands of motors, generators, actuators, grasping tools and other equipment aboard a ship.
“This program will help to keep the United States at the forefront of electric ship technology,” said Hebner. “We are particularly pleased that this long-term project will not only improve national defense in the future, but also give us an opportunity to educate a new generation of engineers who can keep the U.S. at the forefront of this technology. Without forward-looking programs like this, we would risk losing future jobs and industries to off-shore competitors.”
Hebner said program payoffs for the Navy are expected to include technical information needed to design the world’s most capable electric ship. A robust electric power system is key to advances in radar and sonar, communication, mobility, increased automation and advanced weapons. Other anticipated payoffs include an enhanced ability to conduct simulation-based acquisition for naval power systems and a definition of the engineering science of reconfigurable power systems. Finally, the program also will educate engineers to develop shipboard power systems within the United States.
Modern electric ships are expected to be more versatile at war and less costly during peace than conventional ships. So, they are expected to become a larger part of the fleet if appropriate technological advances can be made, Hebner said.
Within The University of Texas at Austin, the engineering research will involve collaboration among students and faculty from the College of Engineering and researchers from university research centers.
“This is an example of how outstanding researchers from across the university can work together to address national problems,” said Dr. Juan Sanchez, vice president for research at The University of Texas at Austin. Sanchez said the university’s key organizations in the program are the Center for Electromechanics, the Applied Research Laboratories, the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the Mechanical Engineering Department and the Robotics Research Group. The Center for Electromechanics is the largest university center in the United States devoted to the design and testing of novel motors, generators, energy storage technology and systems that use these unusual devices. The Applied Research Laboratories, one of a handful of university-affiliated research centers working with the U.S. Navy, will help it incorporate the latest technology into the fleet. The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department has produced nationally recognized research in power systems. The Mechanical Engineering Department is providing staff from its programs in robotics, thermal management and electrochemical storage and production of electricity.