University of Illinois partners with Howard University, University of Arkansas, and Stanford University to lead $18.5 million center for power optimization in mobile electronics

Heat is the enemy for people designing cars, construction machinery, aircraft, and mobile electronics. When their electrical systems do more work, they get hotter. When they get too hot, they operate inefficiently, fail, or even melt. Your cordless drill won’t fire up. Tractor buckets don’t lift. Planes are grounded. Electric cars sit on the side of the road.

A new, $18.5 million Engineering Research Center led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in partnership with Howard University, University of Arkansas, and Stanford University is out to pack more power into less space for electrical systems. The center is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Called P.O.E.T.S., the Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems center will attack the thermal and electrical challenges surrounding mobile electronics and vehicle design as a single system. Partners from around the world will build new technologies like three-dimensional thermal circuitry for cooling, next-generation power converters, and algorithms for coordinating the technologies automatically. They will look at those technologies from the microchip level all the way up to an entire vehicle

“We want to increase the total power density in vehicles by 10 to 100 times. That would translate into billions of liters of fuel saved and nearly double an electric car’s range,” said Andrew Alleyne, the center’s director and the Ralph and Catherine Fisher Professor at the Univeristy of Illinois.

“Today’s electrical technologies are at their thermal limit. A systems approach is the only way we’ll push beyond the current state of the art.”

More than a dozen companies across the United States will also take part, testing the ideas and hiring students trained through P.O.E.T.S. The center will also engage with school districts to transition the breakthrough interdisciplinary STEM concepts to K-12 classrooms and inspire young people to pursue careers in these fields.

“As part of the Caterpillar team, it’s a privilege to work on electric drives as part of my day job and also serve on the Industrial Advisory Board for the P.O.E.T.S project,” said Bryan Lammers, a technical manager who also leads heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar’s involvement with the program.

“This is an opportunity to help grow world-class engineers in our own backyard, and drive collective innovation through a valuable federal and academic partnership. We look forward to sharing industry knowledge with these great researchers to help explain how these technologies could be most useful.”

The National Science Foundation began supporting Engineering Research Centers like P.O.E.T.S in 1985, to create and sustain integrated interdisciplinary research environments that advance fundamental engineering knowledge, enable technology and engineered systems, and prepare U.S. engineering graduates for success in the global economy. Academe and industry are joined in partnership through the ERC to achieve these goals.

“In 1989, the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory at Illinois was launched thanks to support from the NSF Engineering Research Center program. It continues to thrive today, and still conducts more than $7.5 million in research per year,” said Ilesanmi Adesida, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost. “The massive impact of the NSF program and the centers it creates are felt by every partner, but, more importantly, they’re felt by the entire world.”

The NSF Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS) will be led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in partnership with Howard University, Stanford University and the University of Arkansas (NSF award #1449548).

The POETS ERC aims to pack more power into less space for electrical technologies on the move by integrating novel 3-D cooling circuitry, power converters and algorithms for smart power management. Their work will enable the manufacture of lighter, more compact and more efficient power electronic systems for electric vehicles, airplanes, construction equipment, handheld tools and other mobile applications.

Contact: Andrew Alleyne, Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 217/244-9993,

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P.O.E.T.S. Partner Institutions

  • Arkansas Power Electronics International
  • Bosch
  • Caterpillar
  • Creative Thermal Solutions
  • CU Aerospace
  • Halliburton
  • Howard University
  • John Deere
  • ON Semiconductor
  • Parker Hannifin
  • Rolls-Royce
  • Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden
  • Stanford University
  • Texas Instruments
  • Toyota
  • United Technologies Research Center
  • University of Arkansas
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Sao Paolo in Brazil