Fluid Power’s Role in Our Nation’s Energy Efficient Future – Part 2: Introducing Fluid Power to the Department of Energy

by Eric Lanke, CEO

Second in a series of articles describing NFPA’s actions focused on the development of a program within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that can fund and focus on energy efficiency improvements using fluid power technology. The envisioned program would be partly research-focused, helping to develop new energy efficient fluid power technologies, and partly education-focused, helping to improve the design and maintenance of existing fluid power systems with current technologies and techniques. To read the full series, go here.

Our first face-to-face meeting with people within the DOE took place in October 2009. With the help of a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), who worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and who had connections within what was then known as the Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) of the DOE, we were able to secure a meeting with the ITP Director to talk about fluid power and its potential role in our nation’s energy efficient future.

We brought a lot of information to the meeting, assuming—correctly, as it turned out—that the folks inside the DOE had little knowledge or familiarity with the fluid power industry and the technology that it produces. We talked about:

  • The National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), its mission to strengthen the fluid power industry, and its unique membership of 350 organizations that represented the breadth of the fluid power supply chain.
  • The NFPA Board of Directors, and how the people who served on it were high-level industry executives, working in collaboration with each other, and with a track record of decision-making that has helped grow the industry as a whole.
  • The size of the U.S. fluid power industry—a $15 billion dollar a year business, based on 2008 data, with $11 billion in sales of hydraulic components and $4 billion in sales of pneumatic components.
  • The wide diversity of application fluid power has across literally dozens of markets and industries. When you consider the size of the industries that are heavily-reliant on hydraulic and pneumatic technology—including aerospace, on- and off-highway vehicles and industrial automation—fluid power helps support close to $1 trillion of business in the United States.
  • The Fluid Power Technology Roadmap that NFPA has just recently completed. This was one of those decisions our Board had made to help grow the industry as a whole, focused, as the Roadmap is, on the research advances that are necessary to help the industry meet the future needs of its customers and expand fluid power into new customer markets.
  • The objectives of the Roadmap, one of the most prominent being increasing the energy efficiency of fluid power systems. Recognizing energy efficiency as an increasing demand of the marketplace, and realizing that fluid power systems can be less efficient than alternate technologies, the Roadmap had identified a ten-year goal of doubling energy efficiency of hydraulic and pneumatic systems.
  • The CCEFP and its network of 50 industry partners and seven universities that was beginning to work on this challenge, and which provided a pre-existing base on which a research program funded by the DOE could be built.

It was a healthy discussion with a lots of questions asked and answered. At its end, we focused on a very specific request. Given the efficiency of current fluid power systems, and given their wide ubiquity of application in our nation’s key industries, we suspected that a significant amount of energy could be saved even with only minor improvements in fluid power system efficiency. But no one, not even us, had an accurate estimate of what that specific potential was. What we needed was a comprehensive study of the energy consumption of fluid power systems across their many markets so we could put a number on that potential, and we wanted to know if the Industrial Technologies Program of the DOE would be interested and willing to fund that study to help us find out.

I’m happy to say that they were, and in my next article, I’ll talk about the process used to complete that study and its surprising results.

The intent of this series is to keep NFPA members better informed about our efforts in this regard, and also to seek their help in advocating for the envisioned program. Please watch this space for more background on this issue as well as regular updates on our progress. If you would like to become more involved, please contact Eric Lanke directly at 414-778-3351 or elanke@nfpa.com. Getting industry leaders engaged in this effort will be critical to its ultimate success.

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