Faculty Candidate Seminar

Electromechanical Energy Conversion – The Dawn of a New Era?

Heath F. HofmannAssociate Professor in Electrical EngineeringPennsylvania State University

Man has been capable of efficiently converting energy from mechanical to electrical form (and vice versa) for over one hundred years. In the latter half of the 20th century, the development of power electronics enabled new applications for electromechanical energy conversion, such as electric and hybrid electric vehicles, energy harvesting (or the generation of electricity from one’s environment), and flywheel energy storage systems.

As we begin the 21st century, these technologies now appear ready to take a leading role in society. Electric vehicles can now achieve a driving range comparable to that of conventional vehicles. Furthermore, these vehicles can have performance specs that rival those of the most expensive sports cars. Energy harvesting approaches, such as wind turbines, are rapidly gaining share in the marketplace. New approaches to energy harvesting, from mechanical vibrations and human movement, are currently being developed. Flywheels, an environmentally-friendly replacement for electrochemical batteries, are now commercially available in applications such as Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS’s). Flywheel energy storage systems also have superior power density and lifetime compared to batteries, have a known charge level, and can reliably operate over a much wider range of ambient temperature.

In this talk we will discuss some of the interesting research challenges in the design and control of electromechanical energy conversion systems that the presenter has experienced during his 15 years of work in this area. These include: optimized energy harvesting components and systems, control models for electric machines incorporating previously unmodelled phenomena to enable superior performance, and numerically efficient finite element analysis techniques for the simulation of electromechanical systems. As will be shown, many of the presenter’s contributions in this area have made their way into products that are either currently available or under development.
Dr. Heath F. Hofmann received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998, and is currently an Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University.

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