Stony Brook researchers have been awarded a Partnerships for Innovation – Research Partnerships (PFI-RP) grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help transition academic research into industry and commercialization. The $550,000 grant will go toward a proposed project to develop a level-set-based, multi-physics and multi-material topology optimization platform for electric machine design.
“Conceptual design is considered the most important stage in the product life cycle, and topology optimization is the most advanced tool for conceptual design,” said Jon Longtin, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS). “This project will implement NSF I-Corps training for participating students and conduct outreach activities for broadening participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
“The efficient design of magnets with Rare Earth (RE) or non-RE materials may enable the development of high-quality and high-throughput generators and electric motors for many applications, including electric vehicles, wind power, and electric aircraft,” said Shikui Chen, associate professor of mechanical engineering in CEAS and the principle investigator on the PFI-RP grant. “The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is to improve electric machine designs.”
To be eligible, organizations had to have previously received a funded research grant from NSF and successfully develop a technology with it. For the PFI-RP, the proposed software suite being developed is a software tool that can be integrated into existing computer-aided engineering tools. The tool will be used in the initial stages of the electric generator/motor development and may enable the design engineers to achieve a better design with reduced lead time.
Longtin said the foundation for the PFI-RP project has been underway for about two years. At GE, sourcing critical materials has been a major consideration for some time, with rare earth elements being one of their top concerns. The GE Advanced Manufacturing Organization approached Stony Brook with an innovative concept to drastically reduce the need of such materials by implementing topology optimization. Topology optimization has traditionally been applied to designing structures, but in this project it, is being applied to magnetics. Working with the help of several seed grants, the SBU/GE team now has results that may reduce costs and dependency of foreign sources while improving the sustainability of rare earth materials.
“After a while it became apparent that there was an opportunity to make some real advances in this space, and, as we continued to work together with GE and develop results, we decided to pursue the application that resulted in this grant,” said Longtin. “It’s a big deal, both because it will provide additional resources for our collaboration, but is also a testament to the promise that the NSF-developed technology offers from a commercialization perspective, particularly with having a global leader in renewable energy like GE as part of the team.”
“General Electric makes large wind turbines that use a lot of magnetic material in them,” said Chen. “We are working to explore ways that we can reduce the amount of the magnetic material that is required to make a turbine and save both money and these rare resources.”
The topology optimization will be integrated with model-based co-design tools for electric-machine design to simultaneously achieve optimal designs at the component and system levels of an electric machine. The proposed research includes multi-physics modeling of electric generators, a parametric level-set topology optimization of multi-physics and multi-material magnets, integration of topology optimization with model-based co-design, and advanced manufacturing and performance validation of optimized magnets for electric generators.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Stony Brook on this important industry challenge,” said Matteo Bellucci, GE Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing leader. “At GE Renewable Energy we value the types of opportunities for strategic collaboration that can help us design wind turbines in a way that helps us accelerate the energy transition while using reliable, sustainable, and competitive sources of key materials.”
Longtin said the award has successfully passed NSF’s rigorous evaluation process using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
“NSF realizes that an enormous amount of investment has been made in developing new concepts and technology,” he said. “But transitioning these technologies to commercialization requires a different approach.”
Longtin added that the NSF is expanding its focus to facilitate the advancement of technologies into the commercial sector in ways that will benefit the U.S. economy and society and make people’s lives better. At the same time, Stony Brook is looking to grow its industry collaborations as federal and state funding agencies place more emphasis on transitioning technology to the marketplace.
“We really have an interest in increasing our industrial collaborations,” said Longtin. “We have this changing funding landscape, a rapidly evolving economy and workforce, and a strong desire to bring core technologies back to U.S. soil. The result is an extraordinary opportunity for us, and this program is an example of what we hope will be many successes in this space.”
— Robert Emproto