By Rachel Harrington
Increasingly reliant on electronic weaponry, detection devices, protection systems and advanced communications systems to do their jobs, U.S. Army soldiers are routinely shouldering up to 35 pounds of batteries. But the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) believes that most of that added weight can be eliminated.
Toward that end, Boston University will soon partner with the ARL in a five-year, $15 million University of Utah-led effort aimed at using computer simulations to create materials for lighter, more energy-efficient devices and batteries. BU will receive about $3.5 million to focus on the electronic and photonics materials portion of the project. Its main partners, the University of Utah and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, will research electrochemical materials/devices and heterogenous materials, respectively.
“The fact that our team has an important role in this project means that the research conducted at BU is receiving significant recognition outside the university,” said Associate Professor Enrico Bellotti (ECE, MSE), who paved the way for BU’s role in this partnership and serves on the project’s alliance executive committee. “We think that this program is a great opportunity to further the outside visibility of the ECE department and the research that is carried out in our groups.”
As part of BU’s role on the project, Bellotti, Professor Francesco Bertazzi of Politecnico di Torino, Italy, and Professor Efthimios Kaxiras from Harvard University will develop simulation models of electronic materials, specifically wide band gap semiconductors, that can be used by the U.S. armed services. Associate Professor Luca Dal Negro (ECE, MSE) and Politecnico di Torino Professor Giuseppe Vecchi will advance new approaches for designing smaller and more efficient electromagnetic devices for energy harvesting, and Associate Professor Martin Herbordt (ECE) will contribute his expertise in parallel computing, a key enabling technology for producing the simulation models.
“The work on batteries and fuel cells will potentially lead to energy storage devices that possess a higher power density than what is available now and can operate in a wider range of environmental conditions,” said Bellotti, noting that the project could to applications in the defense, automotive and clean energy industries.
The collaboration includes not only BU, University of Utah, RPI, and Politecnico di Torino, but also Pennsylvania State University, Harvard University, Brown University, and University of California, Davis. Combined, these universities will form the Alliance for Computationally-Guided Design of Energy Efficient Electronic Materials, or CDE3M.
Ultimately, the researchers aim to use powerful computers to simulate the behavior of new materials on multiple scales in order to develop better, lighter power supplies.
Improving existing materials is also a goal, observed Professor Martin Berzins, the principal investigator from the University of Utah.
“We want to help the Army make advances in fundamental research that will lead to better materials to help our soldiers in the field,” he said.