By Eric Lanke, NFPA President/CEO
I recently attended a workshop at the Argonne National Laboratory to discuss strategies for increasing the energy efficiency of off-road vehicles. The workshop was hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as part of its new $10 million research funding program dedicated to the same cause. I was joined there by more than 80 representatives of fluid power components manufacturers, fluid suppliers, OEMs, research universities, and other national labs. It was an impressive gathering!
The goals of the workshop were clearly laid out:
Fortunately for university and industry researchers in the fluid power industry, increasing the energy efficiency of fluid power systems was pre-identified as one of the barriers to cost-effective, high-efficiency off-road vehicles. The DOE has already awarded several multimillion-dollar grants in this research program to help solve some of fluid power’s efficiency challenges, and the workshop was the primary opportunity for NFPA and its partners to suggest directions for future funding awards.
I, in fact, moderated a breakout session on this very topic. After two hours of discussion, here’s the short list of recommendations that we came up with:
Finally, there was a long discussion on the need for an objective way to measure the impact of any or all of these ideas on system efficiency. Knowing that the off-road vehicle market contains hundreds of vehicles with thousands of different duty cycles, the development of a standardized duty cycle was dismissed in favor of a few elementary metrics for systems, components and fluids that incorporate both steady state and dynamic conditions. For example, standardized metrics could be developed for torque and speed from rotary output in steady state, ramp up, and ramp down conditions. It was believed that such a set of metrics could allow the comparison of different architectures and components without linking it to a specific mission profile.
What the DOE decides to do with this input remains to be seen, but we are expecting a full report from the workshop by the end of the year, and, probably a broad agency announcement for new funded projects shortly thereafter.
All of this matters because it is through federal programs like this that the academic careers of fluid power faculty and graduate students can best be supported. These are the people who are and who will be teaching fluid power to the next several generations of undergraduate engineering students – students that our industry seeks to hire and whose fluid power skills will make or break the next several generations of fluid power products. NFPA played a role, but it was the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) that did the hard work necessary to get such a program launched within the DOE. The least we can do now is stay engaged and to help ensure that the available funding goes to industry-relevant projects.