Army adds Northwestern engineers to team finding material solutions

By U.S. Army CCDC Army Research Laboratory Public AffairsOctober 19, 2020

The project also will include prototyping of lightweight materials and their manufacturing process methods
The U.S. Army funded a team of researchers including Northwestern University’s Dr. Jian Cao to develop technologies that could allow unmanned vehicles to operate on many kinds of fuel.
The U.S. Army funded a team of researchers including Northwestern University’s Dr. Jian Cao to develop technologies that could allow unmanned vehicles to operate on many kinds of fuel. (Photo Credit: Eileen Molony, Northwestern University) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The U.S. Army recently announced a $3 million award to Northwestern University, adding it to its team of university collaborators. The Army is developing technologies that could allow military unmanned vehicles to reliably operate on multiple fuels and stay operational much longer.

In recent months, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory awarded more than $40 million in cooperative research funding to 11 universities tackling various parts of the multi-fuel and hybrid challenges.

Each collaborative effort will help to address the energy demand required to power future unmanned vehicles by identifying underpinning scientific solutions that lead to technologies for multi-fuel capable hybrid-electric propulsion and fast efficient energy distribution.

“The intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communication, and defensive and offensive services roles unmanned air and ground systems fulfill are vital to our national defense strategy’s advanced autonomous systems,” said Dr. Mike Kweon, program manager for the lab’s Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion Essential Research Program. “We need systems that can operate in harsh, disparate and contested environments at high-altitudes, in low temperatures, in varying conditions from runway-independent take-off and landing to unstructured terrain in cities, mountains, forests, deserts and even marine settings. We must identify and mature the science necessary to meet these critical unmanned aircraft and propulsion systems operating conditions.”

The research laboratory awarded $3 million to five investigators affiliated with the Northwestern Initiative for Manufacturing Science and Innovation, known as NIMSI, at Northwestern University. This is part of a two-year project to provide integrated materials, interfaces and manufacturing solutions, as well as develop human capital capabilities, to address one of the Army’s highest priorities for technologies that can be used in complex environments. NIMSI is one of the University Research Institutes and Centers that harnesses interdisciplinary expertise from across Northwestern.

“Northwestern is contributing its world-class materials science and manufacturing leadership to the multi-institutional effort to develop technologies that could allow the Army’s unmanned vehicles to operate on many kinds of fuel and to stay longer in the air, but reliably,” said Dr. Jian Cao, NIMSI director and the Cardiss Collins Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering. “Such a breakthrough is important for the U.S. military, since it could increase performance and reliability while lowering manufacturing costs and increasing resilience.”

Over the next two years, researchers will pursue two main research thrusts. One will address issues of friction and wear at critical interfaces in high-pressure fuel pumps currently used in UAS. The Northwestern team has already run simulations to reveal specific root causes of higher friction that results in piston misalignment and eccentricity, and ultimately mechanical failure; the other will develop high-performance, high-temperature aluminum alloys and additive manufacturing processes to create lighter-weight materials for use in propulsion systems. Their research will leverage advances in efficient computational material design methods, multiscale computational approaches, coating methods and innovative hybrid rapid manufacturing processes.

The project also will include prototyping of lightweight materials and their manufacturing process methods. The Northwestern engineers will work with four industry partners: Valvoline for surface engineering, ECK Industries for casting, NanoAl for alloy development and DMG-MORI for additive manufacturing. Researchers said this will further commercialization and implementation efforts for the Army’s use.

The Army-Northwestern collaboration is funded by the Army’s corporate research laboratory as a part of Center for UAS Propulsion, one of the lab’s Open Campus partnership centers.

“We believe in thinking differently,” said Dr. Mark A. Tschopp, ARL Central Regional lead. “Status quo is not an option. Through the Open Campus business model, ARL has made our doors more fluid so academia and industry can partner with the Army on research relevant to the Army.”

Army research collaboration now extends well beyond the Washington, D.C., area, he said.

“ARL is investing in science and technology hot spots around the country where we are engaging the best local talent and expertise in diverse areas of research to produce future capabilities for the warfighter,” Tschopp said. “Collaborating with Northwestern University on this effort will advance critical technologies.”

The Army awarded funding for similar research at the University of Minnesota; University of Michigan; University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign; University of Illinois Chicago; Iowa State University; University of Delaware; University of North Texas; Texas A&M University; University of Missouri and University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Visit the laboratory's Media Center to discover more Army science and technology stories
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

CCDC Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.