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Agreement links SwRI, Japanese utility organization

Southwest Research Institute and the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI) in Tokyo, Japan, have entered into a formal cooperative agreement. The agreement, which establishes a basis for SwRI to support CRIEPI in its efforts to provide technology and services to member utilities, was signed October 20, 1997.

"Unlike most cooperative agreements the Institute holds with other organizations throughout the world, the CRIEPI/SwRI agreement differs in that CRIEPI will be more of a client to SwRI than a collaborator," said Dr. Jay Lewallen, then SwRI vice president of Planning and Program Development. One goal of the five-year agreement is to have a continuing series of projects, the results of which will be shared by CRIEPI with its member utilities.

Thermal imaging unlocks battery heat patterns

Battery technology remains a major challenge for developers of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. The advanced batteries used in these vehicles are the single most expensive component. With a three-to-five-year life span, every hour of battery life counts in determining vehicle cost-effectiveness.

Concentrated nonuniform temperature gradients within an individual battery module or across a battery pack (typically over two dozen modules) can shorten battery life by causing accelerated corrosion, chemical imbalances and thermal strains on electrode materials.

To address these problems, engineers in Southwest Research Institute's Vehicle Systems Research Department are using thermal imaging techniques to better understand how advanced batteries behave under certain conditions, such as experimental fast-charging that is completed within 20 minutes or at extreme temperatures. Thermal imaging can rapidly and accurately identify energy-wasting hot spots, unpredictable gradients, and transient behaviors.

"Thermal imaging provides the information required for better thermal management," says Research Engineer Joe Steiber, manager of the project. "The laboratory test setup acts as both dynamometer and vehicle simulator and replicates the actual driving conditions that battery packs would normally experience."

Without thermal imaging equipment, designers must use thermocouples placed at a discrete number of sites to obtain temperature distributions. Not only is this costly, but thermocouples interfere with sensitive taking of measurements. Thermocouples also may not register peak temperatures, making it difficult to detect a battery nearing its heat limit.

"Battery thermal imaging will allow both battery manufacturers and electric vehicle developers to design more successful heat management and energy storage systems," says Edward Bass, manager of Advanced Vehicle Technology. "The imaging equipment is portable and can be placed on vehicles at distant sites or in client laboratories."

The research project is supported by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Test data will be used to validate and expand the DARPA-funded hybrid vehicle battery simulation library. SwRI has extensive experience in simulation and recently developed the Advanced Powertrain Assessment Comparison and Evaluation model to allow the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) to optimize components and configurations for electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.

Fire Technology Department receives Canadian recognition

The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) has recognized the Fire Technology Department of SwRI's Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division as an Accredited Testing Laboratory in accordance with the requirements of ISO/IEC Guide 25 and the conditions established by the SCC.

The recognition, which was effective November 1997, makes the Fire Technology Department a component of the National Standards System of Canada.

"This accreditation allows U.S. manufacturers to test their products at the Institute for sale both in the U.S. and Canada, thus eliminating the need for testing in Canada," said Alex Wenzel, director of Fire Technology.

The department is pursuing recognition by SCC as a Certification Organization, which will allow the Institute to list and label materials, products, and assemblies in accordance with the department's Third-Party Listing, Labeling, and Follow-up Inspection Services program. "This accreditation will ensure that the product that reaches the consumer is similar to the product evaluated and tested by SwRI," Wenzel added.

Wenzel elected member of international fire research group

Alex Wenzel, director of the Fire Technology Department of the Chemical and Chemical Engineering Division, has been elected a member of the Forum for International Cooperation on Fire Research. Acceptance to the Forum recognizes SwRI by its peers as an international leader in the field of fire sciences and technology.

The Forum is an informal group of leaders of fire research organizations throughout the world whose goal is to reduce the burden of fire through international cooperation on fire research. Members are expected to be national figures in the strategic direction and management of fire safety research, lead organizations with broad charter for fire research, commit to international programs of research and provide input concerning fire safety to international bodies, and participate in the meetings and activities of the Forum.

Countries represented in the Forum, in addition to the United States, are Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Wenzel joins U.S. members Dr. Jack Snell, deputy director of Building and Fire Research Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Carl Miller, vice president of Factory Mutual.

Current Forum issues include setting a standard of quality for the development of fire model tools, developing well-structured tests and measurements for computer model validation, and developing an international fire incident data base. The Forum will meet in October 1998 at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Manufacturing assistance contract renewed

Southwest Research Institute will continue to help small South Texas manufacturers remain competitive in national and international markets with a one-year, $2.5 million contract renewal from the State of Texas -- a 42 percent funding increase over previous years. The South Central Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC), located at SwRI and operated by Institute staff, has helped more than 250 manufacturers since 1995. TMAC operates under an initiative from the Texas Department of Economic Development and as an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The South Central TMAC office has provided industrial and manufacturing engineering expertise to businesses from San Angelo to Victoria and from Waco to San Antonio. A new field office has been opened in Austin to provide additional support to local manufacturers as a part of the South Central assistance effort.

"This is more than a contract renewal for the Institute. This program does not just impact Southwest Research, but local manufacturers and ultimately all Texans through increased economic strength," Michael Grant, director of the South Central TMAC office, said.

Some of the services available from TMAC include assessment and benchmarking of existing operations and assistance in providing access to specialized technology areas where small companies are often at a competitive disadvantage. TMAC also provides technical education seminars and workshops.

"One of the purposes set forth in the bylaws of Southwest Research Institute is to assist manufacturers, producers, and all others in the development of more efficient methods of production. TMAC is the epitome of how this purpose is fufilled," SwRI President Dan Bates said.

TMAC monitors the success of its services by measuring increased sales and profits, exports, job growth, and operational efficiency in the companies it assists.

SwRI was selected as a TMAC partner in March 1995. Fourteen SwRI Industrial Engineering personnel support the TMAC program, 10 of whom provide hands-on assistance to companies that otherwise would not have been able to afford such service. The other five Texas regional offices are operated by the Texas Engineering Extension Service at Texas A&M University, the Automation and Robotics Research Institute at The University of Texas at Arlington, the Institute for Manufacturing and Materials Management at The University of Texas at El Paso, the University of Houston, and Texas Tech University.

SwRI wins quality award

Southwest Research Institute has been awarded Ford Motor Company's Q1 Award, which recognizes organizations that have sustained levels of excellence in their systems and performance metrics resulting in customer satisfaction.

SwRI's Automotive Products and Emissions Research Division, Engine and Vehicle Research Division, and the Institute-operated U.S. Army TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research Facility were cited for the award.

"In January 1996, SwRI was notified that it had been selected by Ford as a Tier One Preferred Supplier for engineering services," said Allen Whiting, director of SwRI's Quality Assurance Department. "A condition of Tier One was that the Institute obtain Ford Q1 status by the end of calendar year 1997."

The Institute officially received the award on November 24, 1997.

To accomplish that, SwRI had to show evidence of meeting ISO 9000 series standards and implementing a quality operating system that considered customer feedback as the primary emphasis of a continuous improvement program.

"This is a great achievement for the Institute," said SwRI President Dan Bates. "To date, very few of the Tier One engineering service suppliers have achieved such recognition from Ford."

To maintain Q1 status, SwRI must continue to receive a satisfactory rating from Ford, which will be based on SwRI's achievement of Ford's quality metrics.

Pluto book published

For those who might consider Pluto too remote and cold to be interesting reading, see Pluto and Charon: Ice Worlds on the Ragged Edge of the Solar System, written by Alan Stern, Ph.D., and Jacqueline Mitton, Ph.D., (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 216 pp. $27.95). The book explores the remote, ice-bound reaches of our planetary system in a tale of its outermost planet, Pluto, and its unusual satellite Charon. The new book also reviews 20th Century astronomy, from early searches for the planet in 1905 to recent Hubble Space Telescope mappings.

Stern is director of the SwRI Space Studies department, located in Boulder, Colorado. Mitton lives and works in Cambridge, England. She is a former editor of the Journal of the British Astronomical Association and serves as public relations officer for the Royal Astronomical Society.

The book begins with the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh and continues with subsequent discoveries, theories, and controversies over how to explain the exotic body's origins and its place in the solar system.

Procedures and analytical tools help vehicle manufacturers meet SULEV standards

As regulations on passenger vehicle emissions continue to tighten, engine and aftertreatment manufacturers are challenged to refine and integrate their technologies to further reduce emissions. SwRI engineers and scientists have developed several new procedures and analytical tools that can aid manufacturers in the development of new control technologies to meet Super-Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) standards.

The recently proposed SULEV standards (120,000 miles) are 0.01 gram per mile (g/mi) of non-methane organic gases, 1.0 g/mi of carbon monoxide, and 0.02 g/mi of oxides of nitrogen. These standards are more than twice as stringent as the ultra-low emissions vehicle (ULEV) standards (120,000 miles) originally proposed in 1991.

The new SwRI technologies include:

  • A procedure to determine how fuel and lubricating oil additive formulations affect catalytic converters. Sulfur in fuels and phosphorus in oils can accumulate on the catalyst and degrade performance so that the vehicle no longer meets appropriate emissions standards.

    Under an internal research program, SwRI developed a bench test apparatus, called the Fuel/Oil Catalyst Aging System (FOCAS®), that tests full-size catalysts. FOCAS uses a gasoline fuel burner to generate the temperatures and exhaust gas chemistry found in engines, but in a lubricant-free environment. Using this system, engineers can age catalysts and test different fuel properties without the influence of lubricating oils, if desired. On the other hand, FOCAS can be used to test the effects of lubricating oil by injecting test oil as a fine mist downstream of the burner. Under these conditions, the amounts of fuels and oils, as well as their corresponding additives, can be precisely controlled to evaluate any effects on the catalyst.

  • A FLexible EXhaust Engine Rig (FLEXER) that generates a wide range of feedgas conditions.

    SwRI has developed a test cell engine rig designed for rapid adaptability so that engineers can produce a wide variety of exhaust conditions and emission concentrations with little transition time. The test rig uses hardware and software to control both steady-state and transient engine exhaust temperatures, from 30 to 500 degrees C. As many as 20 tests each day can be performed on FLEXER, with significant savings in time and costs.

  • A computer that intercepts the engine's electronic control unit commands and substitutes user-programmed commands to provide optimization of engine exhaust for integration with aftertreatment systems.

    The SwRI computer-controlled intercept system, called Emissions Reduction Intercept and Control (ERIC), can be used on any light-duty vehicle with electronic controls. Using ERIC, the most efficient engine calibration for the aftertreatment system can be identified and feedback given to the original equipment manufacturer and supplier members of the team for use in product improvement.

Facility evaluates materials for stripping aircraft coatings

SwRI has installed a solid-media blast booth for coating removal studies on metallic and composite substrates and aircraft flight control surfaces. The booth offers controlled, automated blasting of test specimens to evaluate and develop new blast equipment, processes, and media. It incorporates a programmable x-y positioner for remote operation and a media recovery and cleaning system for near-continuous operation.

Published in the Spring 1998 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

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