by Eric Lanke
I recently wrote about a trip to Washington, DC with our partners in the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) to discuss the form of a possible major new fluid power research program within the Vehicle Technologies Office of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). On that same trip, I tagged along on a second visit to the organizers of the DOE’s “Co-Optima Program” to see if any breakthroughs coming out of the CCEFP could be used to help advance that program’s objectives as well.
If you’re not familiar with it, “Co-Optima” is short for the “Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines Initiative,” and it aims to simultaneously transform both transportation fuels and vehicles in order to maximize performance and energy efficiency, minimize environmental impact, and accelerate widespread adoption of innovative combustion strategies. Essentially, they’re looking to figure out which combination of fuels, engines and drivetrains result in the highest overall efficiency.
Professor Zongxuan Sun introduced them to the CCEFP’s Free Piston Engine/Pump, a new engine design that is easily optimized for almost any kind of fuel, and which directly converts internal combustion to hydraulic power. By placing one on each actuated function, you completely change the mindset and approach to propulsion and actuation. No more single engine driving a single pump sending pressurized fluid to multiple functions, and bleeding off the excess pressure with relief valves. Instead, multiple engine/pumps drive multiple functions independently, each optimized for the best efficiency in that circuit. It’s an opportunity not just to achieve the objectives of the Co-Optima program (saving energy and saving fuel), it’s an opportunity to significantly grow the fluid power market, since the vehicles we’re talking about are largely those on our roads and highways.
The Co-Optima organizers saw the potential and said they would include language in their next call for funded projects that would allow further exploration of this promising technology. It was a significant win for the CCEFP—validating that the industry-generated ideas that it pursues can represent real market opportunities.