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The GSPEL's Thermal Management Lab is designed for small-scale, component-level testing and validation, finding hidden advantages and bringing meaningful discoveries to the Army.
Currently, the laboratory is fitted with several test benches and equipment to focus on researching thermal management technologies and developing control system software. In the
area of thermal management, waste heat recovery (thermoelectric modules) is being studied for component performance and efficiency validation. Controls development focuses on fire
safety systems and electronic pedal control.
In this laboratory, engineers are developing a system to recover vehicle exhaust energy that would otherwise be dispersed as waste into the air and produce usable electric power
for the vehicle. About 30 percent of energy is wasted out of the vehicle's exhaust, and if the system can convert even a small percentage of that wasted heat, it could extend vehicle
range, generate a quiet power source for electronic components, and improve overall vehicle energy efficiency.
We asked TARDEC engineers Chris Spangler, Orest Tarnavsky, Dan Pace and Joe Stempnik to explain more of their work in the Thermal Management Lab.
What dual-use benefit can this provide to industry and academic partners, and what collaborative
opportunities will it provide?
We're working with other government research labs in testing different materials to improve efficiency, and with the Department of Energy and industry partners to have a better
understanding of integration challenges and solutions.
What's an example of research in your lab that will benefit Soldiers?
We're working with an electronic throttle body with two analog sensors in it — if you push the throttle down, the sensors operate at 100 percent and the driver has full mobility.
If the Soldier has no contact with the throttle and cannot move the pedal, he can use something like a smart display and enable an override, similar to what you have in a commercial
vehicle for cruise control, and command the vehicle to return to 100 percent mobility. An electronic throttle gives a coherent message to the engine and transmission, so they're always
calibrated and acting on the same value.
What's the first project you're going to test in this new lab?
We're currently developing an application to control a military vehicle's cooling fan. Army vehicles have large diesel engines in a relatively small space and require a large cooling
fan to provide the air flow that keeps the engine cool. Those fans are either always on, or you can turn them on or off; there's no in-between. We partnered with industry to develop
control software that allows us to regulate control to a level more appropriate for the cooling required under the circumstances. The energy saved by running a partial load could power
something else and prevent parasitic loss from the engine, thereby saving fuel.
We can also integrate software controls with the fire suppression system. If there is an engine fire, the system is currently designed to discharge fire retardant into the engine
compartment. With the current fan system, the material gets dispersed and may not even put out the fire. Now that we can control the fan, we can send a message to the system saying
"don't discharge yet," and ramp down the fan before extinguishing the fire.