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Around the State- Northwest- Oct. 2000

Rewiring the Navy
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."


In the News

Destin -- After 14 years in the business, Harry T's Boathouse on the Destin Harbor is still setting sales records. It tallied up an all-time high of $722,000 for July, peak season for the Emerald Coast. The last record month was July 1998, when the restaurant recorded $694,000 in sales.

A state senator, a mayor, a county chairman and environment-conscious residents have teamed up in an effort to save Choctawhatchee Bay. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous threaten the bay, which has already lost 20% of its sea grasses. According to state Sen. Charlie Clary, the group's goal is to raise the $350,000 it will take to determine the source of the pollutants.

Fort Walton -- The Okaloosa County School Board has voted in favor of a career-technical high school and is now wrestling with site location, administration, staffing, curriculum design and funding. Seventy-seven percent of families surveyed agreed there was an unmet need for technical training for high school students in the area, and 87% said current graduates don't get the career-technical skills they need for the most desirable jobs, according to the Haas Center.

Lanark -- Developers are hoping to transform the once-sleepy Lanark Village retirement community. Franklin County Planning and Zoning Board has approved a rezoning request for 34 lots along Highway 98 from residential to mixed commercial.

Milton -- Odebrecht-Metric, builders of the Garcon Point Bridge (dubbed "Bo's Bridge" after former House Speaker Bo Johnson), will pay $4 million in penalties and cleanup costs after dumping tons of construction debris into East Bay. The illegal dumping allowed the Miami-based contractor to finish the $53-million toll bridge early, earning it a $150,000 bonus. Project superintendents still face federal charges, which may result in fines and prison sentences.

Panama City Beach -- The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau has formed a "snowbird committee" to attract more Northerners. The CVB will spend $66,000 to advertise in publications that target senior citizens, including Modern Maturity and Forever Young. Between 10,000 and 12,000 snowbirds visit Panama City Beach annually, with an economic impact of about $28 million.