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CoE working to lighten the military’s load

CoE Assistant Professor Roger Fales illustrates the principles underlying a motor he is working on to help meet U.S. military power requirements. Photo by Vicki Hodder

The high–tech American soldier—equipped with computers, radios and night–vision goggles—is by now a familiar figure.

Less well–known is the physical and logistical burden the electronic equipment represents. Soldiers already are laden with tens of pounds of batteries to provide power for all the electronic devices and weaponry so prominent on today’s battlefield, and the military’s power requirements are growing.

MU College of Engineering researchers are part of a team striving to lighten that load. Joining forces with the North Carolina-based International Technology Center, Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University and the Tennessee Technological University, MU’s Noah Manring and Roger Fales are working to help design a lightweight, highly efficient portable power generator that could replace some battlefield batteries.

“No one has a portable generator as compact as this will be,” said Fales, an assistant professor in the CoE’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department.

Under the joint project, Missouri will try to develop a vane motor—of the type typically used for pneumatic wrenches—driven by hot gas instead of compressed air, said Manring, the CoE’s associate dean for research and a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor.

“Today’s vane motor derives its energy from compressed air or pressurized liquid; a hot gas–driven vane motor would get its energy from vaporized jet fuel produced by a chemical reaction,” Manring said. “These sources of energy are extremely different, and require different motor designs.”

A hot gas–driven vane motor would essentially do the job of a turbine engine, but provide power more efficiently and weigh less than turbines, he said. Project goals call for a motor that weighs less than 300 grams, or about two–thirds of a pound.

Fales said a prototype of the new motor should be available by next June. Once completed, the new portable generator would provide power for the military’s computers, telephones and radios, he said.

“And that would reduce the need for storing energy in batteries,” Fales said.