Task Force Proposes Fluid Power Research Areas for New DOE VTO Program

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO


by Eric Lanke

As recently reported, NFPA is working in collaboration with the CCEFP to launch a new fluid power research program in the Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Since funding for the program may be included in the new federal budget, the CCEFP has assembled a small task force of industry and university partners to begin proposing research projects that could be included in the program.

Prof. Zongxuan Sun of the University of Minnesota is chairing the task force. On the task force’s opening conference call, he clarified that the focus of the new program would be on using fluid power to improve the energy efficiency of off-road equipment. Although off-road equipment is part of the VTO’s scope, as a research agency it has been primarily focused on improvements in on-road vehicles. In discussing the new fluid power program, it is understood that some advances from on-road vehicles may be transferred to the off-road segment, but that new approaches are necessary given the different power system architectures and duty cycles of off-road vehicles. Fluid power efficiency can play a significant role in this area and will likely include improvements both to fluid power components and systems and to the close integration of fluid power with engine technologies.

On the task force’s second conference call, the group reviewed a list of suggested research areas submitted anonymously by the task force members. That list included:

Vehicle Systems

  • Development of system architectures that will drive smaller power plants (diesel engines or battery) through energy management, energy recuperation and reuse for high efficiency and lower cost.
  • Modular power supplies and hydraulic actuation systems to improve system efficiency and emissions.
  • New integrated throttleless system architectures enabling energy recovery, hybridization and machine effective power management.
  • Integration of the powertrain and drivetrain/implement (hydraulic power) and their synchronized control. This is critical because there is a significant opportunity to improve total vehicle energy efficiency.
  • Systematic modeling and optimization tools for off-road vehicles.
  • Highly efficient powertrains including novel control concepts.
  • Development of power control strategies that will improve power sharing between the hydraulic system and other machine subsystems.
  • Integration of hydraulics onto engines through clutchable CVTs or even IVTs that enable the engine to run at an optimized power point and allow the maximum flexibility of hydraulic operation to be maintained independently of engine operation.
  • Hydraulic engine start and automated engine shutdown circuits to reduce engine idling fuel consumption. Focus on developing a commercially viable HVAC system that can provide cab comfort during engine shutdown.
  • Novel concepts to reduce system noise.
  • Novel concepts for prognostics of systems to reduce maintenance costs and increase system reliability.

Hydraulic Components and Systems

  • Technologies and design concepts for smart hydraulic components.
  • High bandwidth control systems for positive displacement machines to enable active vibration damping of structures, machine elements and working tools to increase productivity, operator comfort and machine life.
  • Reduction of electro-hydraulic control losses through direct drive of the control function with an electro-mechanical actuator.
  • Further optimization of displacement control (“meterless”) technology architecture that will lead to a commercially viable technology.
  • Piston pump noise reduction.
  • Cost-effective over-center pump/motor technology for displacement control and energy reuse.

Other Applications

  • Architectures, sensor and control concepts for autonomous machine operation and cloud control.
  • Connected and autonomous off-road vehicles to improve productivity, efficiency and emissions.
  • Computational design methods and virtual prototyping for highly efficient, compact and easy to manufacture positive displacement machines, actuators and transmissions utilizing novel manufacturing technologies and materials.

Prof. Sun will be reporting on the activities of the task force and seeking additional feedback on these proposals at the upcoming Fluid Power Innovation and Research Conference (FPIRC). The goal will be to refine the list, and then make a presentation back to the VTO later in the year to help define the research areas that could receive funding in the new program. Watch NFPA News for further updates.


Photo Credit: Ron Cogswell

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