Meeting with DOE VTO Begins Fluid Power Research Discussion

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO


by Eric Lanke

With our university research and education partner the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), NFPA has been pursuing the creation of a new fluid power research program within the Vehicles Technology Office (VTO) of the U.S. Department of Energy. See here and here for previous NFPA News stories on this initiative. We’re still hoping to get $5 million for this new program included in the new federal budget, which our consultants in Washington tell us is both likely and likely to happen after this year’s presidential election.

As a testament to how likely this funding currently is, I recently made a trip to Washington with Kim Stelson and Zongxuan Sun of the CCEFP to meet with officials in the VTO and discuss a possible structure for their new program. The primary objective of the program would be to increase the efficiency of fluid power systems on off-highway vehicles—a technical area within the mission of the VTO but currently not receiving any funding or attention. As such, we discussed the need to first conduct an environmental analysis to help determine the best targets for future research funding, as well as the development of new analytical models and tools that could be used to test and validate the ensuing research discoveries. We envisioned some of that initial work being accomplished through partnerships between a national laboratory and industry associations like NFPA and/or the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

Some of you may remember a few years back when NFPA and several NFPA members participated in a similar analytical project with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, seeking to estimate for the first time the total energy consumed by fluid power systems in the United States. Copies of that report are available here, and it has been used consistently since it was published to help open doors and dialogues with agencies like the VTO to spur more interest and investment in fluid power.

Once the new studies are completed, the VTO would seek to move quickly towards funding projects that can use the new modeling tools to help get new energy efficient technologies through the “valley of death” and to commercialization. Active partnerships with industry members will be key to that success, and a small team has already been assembled that will be in a position to make topic, team and funding level suggestions to the VTO.

It was a productive dialogue, but moving forward will require the new federal budget allocation to be approved. As we’ve previously described, two versions of the relevant budget bill were passed by the House and by the Senate, and only the Senate version included the language for the fluid power program within the VTO. A conference committee is now working on a compromise bill. If you’re interested in seeing DOE investment in this area, you are welcome to contact your representatives to express your support of the Senate language. Please reference the “Commercial Off-Road Vehicle Program at DOE” in the “Fiscal Year 2017 energy and water appropriations conference report” in your correspondence.


Photo Credit: Ron Cogswell

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