March 13, 2012

Engineer Creating Computer Model To ‘Sculpt’ More Efficient Engines

Iowa State engineer Dionysios Aliprantis wants to take a sculptors approach to rebuilding the engine. The assistant professor and electrical and computer engineering thinks that  by chipping away slowly at the existing model, much like a sculptor does to a statue, engineers will be able to reduce the size of electric engines and generators. Reducing the size of these electric motors could bring about increases of power and efficiency. Aliprantis is developing computer modeling technology to chip and sculpt a new shape and design of electric motor.

Aliprantis told the National Science Foundation “The goal is to get more power out of the same size motor. Or, that could mean getting the same power with a smaller motor.”

Aliprantis is playing a game of small numbers. Rather than try to find immediate increases of 60 or 70 percent, his aim is much lower.

“I´m looking for a little bit of increase, maybe 5 percent or 1 percent,” he said. “But multiply that number by the number of hybrid cars, let´s say, and you could get savings in the billions of dollars. The potential here could be huge.”

Aliprantis is working with a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, Yanni Li.

The two engineers are approaching their projects by confronting some common and possibly outdated practices.

For example, the two want to take advantage of the fact that most motors are designed to spin in two directions: Forwards and backwards. For most operations, motors have no need to spin backwards and yet, they have been designed to give the same amount of power despite which direction they are spinning. This is one of the techniques being used to design current engines that Aliprantis and Li hope to change.

“We are trying to develop a systematic way of getting to the right shape,” Aliprantis said. “This idea is very simple, but motors are still being designed using techniques that are essentially one hundred years old.”

The computer modeling software being developed by Aliprantis and his team gives the engineers the opportunity to look at details to determine efficiency. By designing the new motors virtually via the computer modeling software, the team is able to run the mathematics to determine if new shapes will ultimately work or flop.

The team is using the software to determine if the teeth that hold the metal coils within an electric motor can be built asymmetrically as opposed to being built symmetrically, the way they are built today. By building the teeth in an asymmetrical manner, the motor may be able to pick up an increase in power when spinning in the designated direction.

The National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program is funding Aliprantis´ project with a five-year, $400,000 grant.

Aliprantis is also working on other projects which include a project to enhance the sophistication of electric motor control to capture more of a motors power and capabilities. He is also working on a project to collect data on how much solar energy is available throughout the day. By collecting better data by use of improved cloud models, Aliprantis hopes to improve the way utilities estimate how much power will be available from solar sources.


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