Sustaining a National Research Program for Fluid Power
In my last Notable Works column two years ago, I highlighted the energy-saving potential of fluid power. The data for that column came from a draft of a Department of Energy (DOE) report, “Estimating the Impact (Energy, Emissions, and Economics) of the U.S. Fluid Power Industry.” The report has recently been officially released. You can read it at www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1061537/. The delay in the release was caused by skepticism within the DOE. The numbers were just too good to believe.
But the numbers are accurate. Fluid power consumes 2.1% to 3.0% of all of our energy with an average efficiency of 22%. By adopting best practices and developing new technology, the efficiency of fluid power would dramatically increase efficiency, substantially reduce energy use, and curb emissions. Annual U.S. sales of fluid power exceed $17.7B for components and $226B for systems that use those components, presaging the large economic impact of a program to promote more efficient fluid power.
As impressive as it is, since it confines itself to existing applications, the DOE report underestimates the impact of more efficient fluid power. The rapidly developing field of hydraulic hybrids illustrates this underestimation. Hydraulic hybrids for off-road applications, such as excavators, would be an existing application included in the DOE study, while hydraulic hybrids for on-road applications, such as delivery vans, would be a new application not considered in the DOE study.
Considerable progress has been made in both off-road and on-road hydraulic hybrids. As just two examples in the last year, Caterpillar announced the first hydraulic hybrid excavator and Parker-Hannifin announced the creation of a new division to produce hydraulic hybrid systems. Both of these developments promise dramatic efficiency improvements and expanded employment and economic development.
The efforts to create more efficient fluid power are supported by the activities of the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP). CCEFP is a research and educational organization with seven university and more than 50 industry members. Our mission is to transform the way that fluid power is researched, applied, and taught. We do this by developing fluid power that is efficient, compact, and effective. Efficient fluid power will save energy; compact fluid power will be smaller and lighter; and effective fluid power will be quiet, clean, safe, and easy to use.
The CCEFP is in its seventh year, and the impact on fluid power is being broadly felt. Before CCEFP, university research in fluid power in the United States was confined to a few isolated research groups. It has now grown to an $8-million coordinated effort with funding from government, industry, and universities. Our researchers work closely with industry and employ a systems approach to set research priorities. We are currently supporting 21 research projects that are demonstrated on four test beds.
The numbers show the impact of CCEFP on fluid power workforce development. The Center currently has 48 faculty and staff researchers, 81 graduate students, and 63 undergraduate researchers. Since its inception, 104 bachelors, 80 masters, and 28 doctoral students have graduated. A recent survey showed that 61% of CCEFP graduates enter the fluid power field. Of the 70 students who participated in the 2012 NFPA Workforce Development Summit, 56 were from the seven CCEFP universities.
Center researchers have also been active in publishing research and patenting inventions. To date, research has resulted in 78 publications in technical journals and 248 publications in conference proceedings. Forty-three (43) inventions have been disclosed, 24 patent applications filed, two patents awarded, and two licenses issued to industry.
CCEFP is in the seventh year of a ten-year program funded by the National Science Foundation. In the next few years, we will be making a transition to other funding sources. Of course, we will continue to receive dues from our industry members, but this support covers less than 10% of our operations. And we will continue to aggressively pursue funding for individual projects from government and industry sources. But to really have a continuing impact, CCEFP must obtain a large government grant. To make CCEFP sustainable, we are actively pursuing large government grants from two sources: the Department of Energy (DOE) and the NNMI (National Network for Manufacturing Innovation). The investment in fluid power from these programs is justified by the large potential for energy savings and economic development documented in the DOE report.
Industry support of CCEFP is important for its success. If you are an industry member of CCEFP, I would like to personally thank you for your support. If you are not a member, I hope you will consider joining us. Information on industry membership can be found at www.ccefp.org/industry. The many benefits of industry membership are detailed there.
By Kim A. Stelson, Director, Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP)