Engineering at Illinois leading $18.5 million center for power optimization
The goal of the Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS) Center led by the University of Illinois is to pack more power into less space for electrical systems in cars, construction machines, aircraft, and mobile devices by tackling thermal and electrical challenges surrounding the mobile electronics and vehicle design as a single system. Heat is the opponent for engineers designing electrical vehicles and equipment, because electrical systems do not work without generating heat. And the harder they work, the hotter they get. When they get too hot, they operate inefficiently, fail or melt. Planes are grounded, electric drills stop, electric cars sit still, and bulldozer buckets won’t lift.
The U of I and its academic and industrial partners around the world will design and build new technologies, such as three-dimensional thermal circuitry for cooling, next-generation power converters and algorithms for coordinating the technologies automatically. They’ll look at these technologies from the microchip level up to the entire vehicle. Their work will enable manufacturers to make lighter, more compact and more efficient power systems for electric cars, power tools, and other mobile applications.
“We want to increase the total power density in vehicles by 10 to 100 times. That would translate into billions of liters of fuel saved and nearly double an electric car’s range,” said Professor Andrew Alleyne, professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering, who will guide the center. “Today’s electrical technologies are at their thermal limit. A systems approach is the only way we’ll push beyond the current state of the art,” he said in a release. Professor Alleyne is joined by Co-PI Paul Braun from Material Science and Engineering and, from Electrical and Computer Engineering, Professor Joseph Lyding, along with CEME Professors Philip Krein and Robert Pilawa.

POETS, funded by the National Science Foundation, is led by the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign in partnership with Howard University, Stanford University, the University of Arkansas, the Royal institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil. Caterpillar and a dozen other companies across the United States will take part, testing the ideas and hiring students trained through POETS. The center will also work with schools to incorporate the concepts into K–12 classrooms and inspire young people to pursue careers in these fields.
Following is a complete list of POETS Partner Institutions: Arkansas Power Electronics International, Bosch, Caterpillar, Creative Thermal Solutions, CU Aerospace, Halliburton, Howard University, John Deere, ON Semiconductor, Parker Hannifin, Rolls-Royce, Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, Stanford University, Texas Instruments, Toyota, United Technologies Research Center, University of Arkansas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and University of Sao Paolo in Brazil.
The National Science Foundation announced the POETS funding award in August 2015.