By Eric Lanke
On September 12, 2017, I attended what is sure to be an important event in the history of fluid power research. The U.S. Department of Energy held a workshop for stakeholders to discuss their new $5 million research program focused on energy efficiency improvements in hydraulic systems for off-highway vehicles.
Hosted by NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, the workshop drew an impressive convergence of representatives from the fluid power industry, academia and the national labs. The objective of the workshop was to identify project areas that could increase fluid power energy efficiency and that could be funded through the program’s competitive bid process.
I can’t speak to what kinds of projects the program will eventually fund, but I can describe the areas that seemed to get the most discussion at the workshop.
- The need for standardized duty cycles in off-highway equipment: To the best of everyone’s understanding, no universally accepted standards for these duty cycles currently exist, and the DOE is going to want some if they are to measure the impact of the new technologies and architectures that are eventually developed through this program.
- Changes in fluid power system architectures: The hybridization of the hydraulic functions on these pieces of equipment was a large topic of discussion, specifically finding ways to reduce the cost of implementation or shortening the return on investment for their implementation. Other ideas included reducing throttling losses by using power electronics to control a pump on each work function, rather that one pump driving all work function through a series of valves, and finding ways to streamline energy conversions in typical hydraulic system, essentially going directly from chemical combustion to hydraulic power.
- Use and improvement of energy efficient hydraulic fluids: To make a real dent in the market, energy efficient hydraulic fluids need to also be wear resistant, shear stable, and cost-effective. How can the program help bring those innovations about?
- Development of simulation models for hydraulic systems on which the above ideas can be tested: Testing everything with prototypes and real components is time-consuming and expensive. Developing better simulation tools for hydraulic systems could help shorten the time horizon and lower the cost of developing new technologies.
The folks at NREL said that they would get a full report on the workshop put together, which the DOE would then use to craft a set of specific funding opportunity announcements. We’ll be sure to share both documents with our industry members and university education partners as soon as they are available. Whatever the specific areas of study, the program will be a great way to continue the great collaborative relationships that have developed for the improvement of fluid power technologies.