Florida State University is helping the Navy create a blueprint for an all-electric fleet.
By Julie S. Bettinger
A new $10.9-million grant from the U.S. Navy has Florida State University thinking big and talking even bigger. The contract, awarded this summer, is to develop the "next generation" power system for a new fleet that will be smaller, quieter, cheaper to run, environmentally friendly and take only one-fourth the crew it now takes to operate.
Officials say the deal will help usher in a change as dramatic as the switch from sail to steam.
Currently, the Navy's 330 aircraft carriers, submarines and other vessels are powered by nuclear reactors, oil-fueled boilers, gas turbines or diesel engines. Those systems consume up to 90% of ship space and require as many as 400 sailors per vessel. Electric propulsion systems, powered by electric generators, are much more compact and could cut crew sizes by as much as 75%.
"This is a major transition that will build a Navy of the next century, which is fundamentally stronger than the Navy of the past, and better adapted to seize the opportunities of the future," says Richard Danzig, secretary of the Navy.
FSU is well-suited for the task of updating the Navy's fleet: The university's recently purchased $8.3 million supercomputer -- the nation's fastest university-owned computer -- will likely be used to do simulations. The supercomputer is 8,000 times more powerful than a standard desktop PC and can perform 2.5 trillion calculations per second.
Raymond Bye Jr., FSU's vice president for research, says the work for the Navy will have applications beyond defense. The inventions could revolutionize the power industry and make vast changes in transportation, he says, noting that electric is the propulsion system of choice for future transportation.
The FSU Center for Advanced Power Systems, which received the three-year grant, includes scientists from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. "If we do our job, there's no reason to think that over the next 20 years when R&D is required for any transportation system -- cars, ships, trains -- people are going to be looking to the state of Florida," he says.
Utilities are expected to benefit because the same technology used to move power around a ship is needed to move power around a city grid. "One of the things the Navy is interested in developing is a zonal electric system, where small generators provide power for local regions of the ship," says Jack Crow, director of the magnetic field laboratory. "The generation of power does not come from one central source."
Applied to a community, such a system would allow homeowners to draw from several regional power generators. If one generator went down, another could be tapped. "We're making a significant re-evaluation of how we generate, distribute and utilize electricity, and the model is going to be a large ship," Crow says.
The significance of the Navy's investment says a lot about Florida State's reputation in R&D, says Crow. "These things don't come to people because you have a good football team."
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