Army Launches Research Effort to Develop Hybrid-Electric Engines for Vehicles, Aircraft

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General Dynamics Land Systems' Advanced Ground Mobility Vehicle sits on display at the Renewable Energy Rodeo and Symposium held in and around the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, June 8, 2010. (U.S. Army/Stephen Baack)
General Dynamics Land Systems' Advanced Ground Mobility Vehicle sits on display at the Renewable Energy Rodeo and Symposium held in and around the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, June 8, 2010. (U.S. Army/Stephen Baack)

U.S. Army researchers have selected the University of Wisconsin to lead a research effort to develop hybrid-electric engines for the service's future aircraft and ground vehicles.

The Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, awarded an $11.5 million contract to the university for the research effort, which will begin this fall. Part of the effort will focus on novel oil-less bearing technology that could result in new, lightweight compact electric generators using exhaust waste energy, according to an ARL news release.

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"The university has unique capabilities and research strengths in these areas as a result of the faculty, staff, and facilities of the Engine Research Center and Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium," said David Rothamer, principal investigator for the project team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We look forward to working with the Army Research Laboratory and other project partners to address critical Army needs."

This year, Army modernization officials expressed interest in electric-powered vehicles and directed ground maneuver officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, to develop requirements for equipping the service's tactical and combat vehicles with electric engines.

Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, deputy commander of Army Futures Command and director of the Futures and Concepts Center, said in April that vehicle designers at Tesla Inc. in Palo Alto, California, have already proven that electric motor technology can be scaled up to run vehicles the size of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

Benning officials are planning a virtual Electrification Industry Day on Oct. 20 to share preliminary plans for the effort. The Army has also partnered with CALSTART, a nonprofit organization that works with businesses and governments to develop clean, efficient transportation.

As part of the research effort, University of Wisconsin researchers will develop, validate and apply tools that will be integrated into a comprehensive modular Hybrid-Electric Optimization and Integration Tool, which will then be used to configure future Army hybrid-electric air and ground vehicles, said Mike Kweon, program manager for ARL's Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion Essential Research Program.

The research effort will also help identify new technologies that could allow the service to use multiple fuel types for manned and unmanned aircraft.

"Right now, the Army's unmanned aircraft are powered by engines built for ground transportation systems; these engines were developed to work with commercially available fuels, such as gasoline and diesel," Kweon said in the release.

ARL recently announced the development of a new, advanced scientific model to allow vehicle maintenance specialists to turn to bio-derived fuels in austere locations, along with efforts to convert a home-based generator into a power source for autonomous ground and air vehicles, according to the release.

In addition to the University of Wisconsin research effort, the Army has also entered into similar partnerships this year with other institutions, such as the University of Minnesota, University of Michigan, University of Illinois at Chicago, Iowa State University and Texas A&M University.

"By expanding the team to include experts in academia, small businesses and industry, together we can take concepts and ideas and transform them into future capabilities for the Army," Mark Tschopp, regional lead for ARL Central in Illinois, said in the release.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Army Takes First Step Toward Equipping Tactical, Combat Vehicles with Electric Engines

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