Computational Modeling for Improved Materials and Structures

Odegard, GregProf. Odegard is the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Computational Mechanics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering – Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University. His research is focused on computational modeling of advanced materials and structures for the aerospace, power transmission, and alternative fuels industries.

Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. As computers become increasingly fast, more opportunities exist to design new technologies in a purely computational environment. Computational modeling can cut development costs, speed up the design process, and provide insights where traditional Edisonian methods can’t. Prof. Odegard’s research group is involved in two main projects that utilize computational modeling for new technologies.

Prof. Odegard is the MTU site director of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/University Collaborative Research Center (I/UCRC) titled “Center for Novel High Voltage/Temperature Materials and Structures”. The goal of this center is to leverage federal and industrial funding to develop new materials to withstand harsh environments. Specifically, the center is focused on materials for the power transmission and aerospace industries. Computational modeling has helped speed up the process of developing new highly electrically conducting aluminum alloys for power transmission lines and temperature-resistant composite materials for aerospace vehicles. For these projects, Prof. Odegard’s team is working closely with center members Boeing, General Cable, Bonneville Power Administration, and Western Area Power Administration, and CTC Global.

Figure 1 – Computational modeling of conformable CNG tank

Figure 1 – Computational modeling of conformable CNG tank

As part of a $2.1M grant from Southwestern Energy, Prof. Odegard’s team is using computational modeling to facilitate the development of a conformable compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel tank for light-duty trucks. Traditional CNG tanks have a cylindrical geometry, which make them awkward to use in smaller vehicles and trucks. In conjunction with REL Inc., a Calumet-based partner in the project, the computational modeling is being used to help design conformable CNG tanks (Figure 1) before they are fabricated and tested, which greatly reduces the overall development costs.

Computational Intelligence Aids in Explosive Hazard Detection

Havens, TimTo detect buried explosive hazards in places like Afghanistan and to save the lives 
of civilians and US soldiers, Michigan Tech researcher Tim Havens realizes it requires
 a team: a team of sensors.

A new $983,000 research project, “Heterogeneous Multisensor Buried Target Detection Using Spatiotemporal Feature Learning,” will look at how forward-looking ground- penetrating radar, LiDAR, and video sensors can be combined synergistically to see into the ground, capture high-quality images, and then automatically notify the operator of threats. With funding from the US Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office (ARO), Havens and Tim Schulz, professor of electrical and computer engineering, will work with three Michigan Tech PhD students to create a high probability-of-detection/low false-alarm rate solution.

“It’s a very difficult problem
 to solve because most of the radar energy bounces right off the surface of the earth.” says Havens, the William and Gloria Jackson Assistant Professor of Computer Systems
 and ICC Center for Data Sciences Director. “ It’s hard enough finding the targets, but coupled with that is the amount of data that these sensors produce is massive. It is the perfect project to combine Tim’s (Schulz) statistical signal processing background and my machine learning in big data expertise. This technology has the potential to not only save lives, but also to advance the basic science of how to combine large amounts of sensor data and information together to get a whole that is better than the sum of its parts,” Havens explains.

This new project builds upon a previous sensor-related work Havens and collaborators completed between 2013-2015 and a current project on which Havens and Joe Burns, a Senior Research Scientist at Michigan Tech Research Institute, collaborate. These projects, also funded by the US Army, study signal processing and computer-aided detection and classification using both vehicle-mounted forward-looking and handheld downward-looking ground-penetrating radars. In total, Havens and his collaborators have secured over $2.5 million in funding to develop solutions for this problem.

Figure 1. High-level overview of multi-sensor feature learning and fusion for forward-looking explosive hazard detection. iECO: Improved evolution-constructed (features). DBN: Deep belief network. CNN: Convolutional neural network. GAMKLp: ℓp norm-based genetic algorithm for multiple kernel learning (feature-level fusion method). DeFIMKL: Decision level fuzzy integral multiple kernel learning.

 

The Army currently fields ground-penetrating radars in its fleet. The problem is they cannot detect hazards until they’re right above them, putting a multi-million dollar radar—and Soldiers—directly in the path of danger.

“The big ideas here are to process big data to obtain better images, see into the ground in a high-fidelity manner, and to develop algorithms that automatically find buried threats—even notifying operators of w
hat those threats might be—all while keeping the Soldiers and equipment as far away as possible,” Havens adds.

Havens has partnered with the Army since he was a PhD student in 2008.

 

White Carbon Materials for Advanced Heat Management

Yoke Khin YapDr. Yoke Khin Yap, professor in the Michigan Tech Department of Physics at Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech), has invented a novel class of boron nitride (BN) nanomaterials for advanced heat management. BN phases are structurally similar to those of carbon solids. We have hexagonal phase-BN (h-BN), cubic phase-BN (c-BN), BN nanotubes (BNNTs), BN nanosheets (BNNSs, mono- and few- layered h-BN sheets). These BN structures are analogous to graphite, diamonds, carbon nanotubes (CNTs), and graphene, respectively [1]. Therefore, BN materials can be referred as “white carbon” as they are white in appearance due to their large band gap (~6eV).

Despite the structural similarity, the properties of BN materials are different from those of carbon solids. For example, graphite is electrically conducting while h- BN is insulating due to their large band gap. A common property among the BN and carbon materials is their high heat conductivity that hold potential applications for advanced heat management. BN nanostructures are predicted to have a thermal conductivity, as high as 2000 W/m-K, about 10-times higher than that of metals [2]. Therefore, BN materials can be in contact with active electrical components to dissipate heat without the risk of an electrical short circuit.

Dr. Yap is a leading expert in BN nanomaterials, specializing in the technology of direct synthesis of BNNTs and wavy BNNSs on substrates. BNNTs developed by Dr. Yap are of high purity and high quality, two desirable attributes for applications in electronic devices. The wavy BNNSs are unique in that they have full surface contact with the substrates. They also have wavy edges that stick out from the substrate surface to enhance the contact area with the surrounding cool air/environment. Michigan Tech demonstrates that the coatings of BNNTs and wavy BNNSs can both enhance the heat dissipation rate of hot Silicon chips by as much as 250% in static ambient air.

Figure 1 shows the appearance of BNNTs (top row) and the wavy BNNSs (bottom row) under a scanning electron microscope. As shown, BNNTs are long in length (~40 microns), offering a large contact surface area with air, an important feature to accelerate heat dissipation. However their small diameter (20-50nm), results in a very small contact area with the hot substrate surface.

YKYap boron nitride nanomaterials

In contrast, the wavy BNNSs offer a much larger surface area to contact with the hot substrate surface. Their wavy edges also provide an enhanced contact area with the surrounding cool air but smaller than that offered by BNNTs. The Yap research group have combined the benefits of both materials by growing BNNTs on top of the wavy BNNSs. Results indicate that such uniquely combined BNNT/BNNS structures in the presences of gas flows promote cooling better than BNNTs and BNNSs alone.

Finally, the Michigan Tech team has also demonstrated that these BNNSs and BNNTs can be transferred to desired surfaces. They found that BNNTs and BNNSs grown on Si substrates can be peeled and transferred on to fresh Si substrates. This suggests that these novel BN nanomaterials can be transferred on to hot surfaces of electrical and electronic devices to promote cooling. Michigan Tech has filed a utility patent application and is seeking industry partners to help commercialize the technology. Please contact Michael Morley (mcmorley@mtu.edu) for further information.

 

References

[1]. Y. K. Yap, “B-C-N Nanotubes, Nanosheets, Nanoribbons, and Related

Nanostructures,” http://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=2847

[2]. T. Ouyang, Y. P. Chen, Y. Xie, K. K. Yang, Z. G. Bao, J. X. Zhong, “Thermal

Transport in Hexagonal Boron Nitride Nanoribbons,” Nanotechnology 21, 245701

(2010).

Aerial Unpaved Road Assessment (AURA) System Attracting International Interest

A team of Michigan Tech researchers led by Colin Brooks, has been evaluating the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) for unpaved road analysis and characterization.   A research grant from both the both the U.S. and Michigan Department of Transportation has helped transform the research team’s efforts into a commercial product that has recently gained both national and international interest.

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Colin Brooks and his team at the Michigan Tech Research Institute, outfitted a UAV with a high-resolution, 36-megapixel digital camera to gather data by taking pictures while flying over unpaved roads.  Using 3D processing software, proprietary distress detection analysis algorithms, and GIS tags, the data is sent to an asset management system used in geospatial decision support tools.  The tools help locate, characterize, and prioritize problems such as wash-boarding, ruts,  potholes and erosion.  Additionally, the software provides an up-to-date inventory of unpaved roads, something that many of the agencies managing these roads do not currently have.

Several U.S. based and one Brazilian transportation agency have partnered with Michigan Tech to make improvements to the distress detection software. There are over 1.4 million miles of unpaved roads in the United States, accounting for over 1/3 of the U.S. total.   In Brazil, the ratio is just the opposite, with well over 2/3 of roadways unpaved.   Road maintenance assessments in Brazil and several places in the U.S. have begun using the tools to help manage the problems. 

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Unpaved roads provide a vital part of a nation’s transportation system with road management under the responsibility of local governments and transportation agencies, which are in need of rapid, repeatable methods that are cost-efficient and easily deployable in a budget-limited environment.   A particular focus is on making the system rapidly deployable for cost-effectively detecting deficiencies in the unpaved road components of the transportation system, including preventing of further damage to the transportation network through timely management of unpaved road assets.

MTRAC Program Accelerates Commercialization Potential

Through a grant from the 21st Century Jobs Trust Fund, received through the Michigan Strategic Fund from the State of Michigan, Michigan Tech is moving advanced applied materials research closer to benefiting people and our planet.  The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program is supporting the acceleration of commercially viable advanced applied material technologies developed by university researchers.

Two other Michigan universities were also awarded MTRAC grants in 2013.  The University of Michigan has two MTRAC programs focusing on life sciences and transportation while Michigan State University’s grant supports advancing ag-bio technologies.

Guided by an oversight committee of entrepreneurs, investors, and leading faculty researchers, four Michigan Tech teams were selected in June 2014 from among sixteen proposal submissions.   John Diebel, MTRAC Program Director at Michigan Tech explains the rigorous review process, “In order for a faculty or team of researchers to submit a proposal, there has to be an invention disclosure on file with the university to determine that there is a high potential for commercialization.  The application process uses a multi-phase submission including a Letter of Intent, an invitation to submit a proposal and then a full proposal submission, which may require modifications to meet the oversight committee’s recommendation to move forward. The final step in the selection process concludes after an inventor presentation to the Oversight Committee.”  The program provides fifty percent of the project funding and the university and the Principal Investigator must provide the matching funds.

John Diebel, MTRAC Program Director, Michigan Technological University

 

The four projects currently being conducted at Michigan Tech include mineral removal from torrefied agricultural wastes as a sustainable replacement for pulverized coal in utility boilers, led by Ezra Bar-Ziv (ME-EM); commercialization and purification of oligonucleotides and peptides for research and therapeutic markets, led by Shiyue Fang (Chem); commercialization of a nanosensor platform, led by Tom Daunais and Paul Bergstrom (ECE); and, commercialization of a scalable synthesis process for 3-dimensional graphene materials by Yun Hang Hu (MSE).

How will these projects impact people and the planet?  Bar-Ziv’s project could yield a sustainable and renewable alternative fuel to help the utility industry meet renewable resource and greenhouse gas emission targets.  Fang’s project would provide a method for efficiently producing pharmaceutically-pure drugs for treatment of many diseases including cancer other life threatening illnesses.  Daunais’ project would allow for rapid testing of foodborne pathogens-a process that currently takes days.  This would allow food to pass criteria to begin shipping to markets and stores more quickly reducing waste and spoilage.  And Hu’s project could lead to innovations in regenerative braking, solar power, grid management systems, defense weaponry, and provide the ability to recover kinetic energy in a host of other industrial applications.

The next Michigan Tech MTRAC program cycle will be announced in December 2014 with a call for Letter of Intent submissions due in mid-January.  For more information, please contact John Diebel at 906-487-1082 or by email jfdiebel@mtu.edu.

RFP announced in Advanced Materials

Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement announces a call for proposals for its new Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (M-TRAC) program.

The M-TRAC grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation program sponsors collaborative translational research projects led by teams of researchers and business advisors as needed working in the area of advanced applied materials. The mission of this program is to develop technologies that address unmet or poorly met market needs.  Examples of desirable translational research goals and outcomes include achieving specific milestones on the path to commercializing systems, materials, processing technologies or devices which serve a well-documented market need.  Proposals may address proof of concept demonstration, prototype development or process scale up that is necessary to attract follow-on funding from third parties.  Project funding is in the range of $10,000 – $30,000 but additional commercialization value is likely to be found through collaboration with the program’s outside Oversight Committee.

The proposal must relate to an innovative technology previously disclosed to Michigan Tech’s office of Innovation & Industry Engagement through the invention disclosure process.  The PI must be willing to become involved in the initial business development activities such as customer discovery, competitive analysis, follow-on funding development, patent filings and assessment of the intellectual property landscape surrounding the technology.

The application process begins with a one page letter of intent due January 24th which should be emailed to Program Director John Diebel jfdiebel@mtu.edu.   Proposals accepted by the Oversight Committee will be invited to submit a more detailed proposal in early April. Details on the program and application process can be found here.

Patent & Trademark Resource Center Opens at Michigan Tech

[Photo courtesy of Emil Groth, College of Engineering, Michigan Technological University]

Michigan Technological University celebrated the opening of a newly designated center offering information, assistance and tools for entrepreneurs and inventors seeking patent and trademark protection of intellectual property. The day-long event included topics of interest for inventors, entrepreneurs, educators and legal professionals featuring speakers from the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) and Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech).

Located in the Van Pelt and Opie Library, on Michigan Tech’s main campus, the Patent & Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) will benefit University students, faculty, and staff as well as inventors and independent researchers from the surrounding communities. This center is one of 84 in the United States and one of 45 located in an academic library.  Available services include by-appointment individual patent and trademark searching help with trained librarians, access to robust patent-searching databases available only at PTRCs, patent and trademark searching workshops, and books and other helpful materials on the patent and/or trademark application process from beginning to end. Ellen Marks, University Librarian, emphasizes the importance of the PTRC’s services for individuals, groups and businesses located throughout the Upper Peninsula and Eastern Wisconsin — “everyone is welcome to use our services, uncommonly available in rural areas.”

Speakers for the opening day seminar included:

  • Michael Hydorn, USPTO Patent and Trademark Resource Center Program
  • Jim Baker, Executive Director of Innovation and Industry Engagement, Michigan Tech
  • M. Neil Massong, MLS, USPTO Patent and Trademark Resource Center Program

More information contact Instruction Librarian Sarah Lucchesi at slucches@mtu.edu or 906-487-3379.

Accurate Detection of Engine Knock

Engine knock is caused by the auto-ignition of the fuel and air mixture compressed in the cylinder before normal combustion is complete. A vehicle with engine knock will quickly suffer engine damage, yet operating at conditions far from the knock limit will quickly reduce fuel economy. Because engine knock typically generates high frequency vibrations in the engine, it can be measured by accelerometers mounted on the engine block. The intensity of the engine knock varies from cycle to cycle and can lead current knock detection systems to underestimate the level of knock resulting in possible engine damage or overestimate the level of knock resulting in fuel economy losses.

The solution to accurate engine knock measurement lies with statistical characterization. The invention is a software algorithm that capitalizes on current Engine Control Unit (ECU) hardware to fit the cycle-cycle knock intensities to a probability density function. The statistical characterization is more accurate for both stationery and non-stationery detection of engine knocks. The model was developed using a standard 3.0 liter, V-6 internal combustion engine.

Minimizing engine knock provides many advantages including reduced fuel consumption, reduced engine noise and improved tolerance to alternative fuels including biofuel blends. The developed software algorithm improves the robustness of existing ECU hardware with a more accurate measuring system. This calculation improves performance and extends internal combustion engine life while being applicable to most ECUs on the market.

Exclusive and nonexclusive license terms are available on this innovation (U.S. Patent No. 7,415,347, issued January 2008). For more information contact John Diebel in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, 906-487-1082.

Wet Oxidation of Lactose

Lactose is a low-value by-product of cheese production. Altogether, about 1.2 million tons are generated annually worldwide by the dairy industry. Most of the resulting lactose is disposed of in waste water leading to environmental problems. To reduce the environmental impact the dairy industry needs to minimize this waste, either by converting lactose to smaller organic and inorganic carbon compounds more suitable for disposal or, preferably, to a lactose derivative compound with significant value.

At Michigan Tech, researchers have modified a catalytic wet oxidation process (common in sewage treatment) where O2 is added to a 3 percent lactose-water solution in the presence of a catalyst under heat and pressure. Catalytic wet oxidation converts whey (comprised of water, proteins, minerals and lactose) to carbon dioxide and water. The process has been modified to produce lactobionic acid, a marketable by-product for food preservation, cosmetics and pharmaceutical applications.  During the process, heat is generated and may provide additional value as recovered energy.  In addition to producing a marketable by-product, this process is simple and offers a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional waste treatment methods.

Exclusive or nonexclusive licensing is available on this technology (U.S. Patent No. 7,371,362, issued May 13, 2008). For more information contact John Diebel in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, 906-487-1082.

Boron Nitride Nanotube Fabrication

Boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) provide many positive attributes over carbon nanotubes. BNNTs offer extraordinary mechanical properties and high thermal conductivity.  They also provide uniform electrical properties and high oxidation resistance. BTTNs are ideal for applications requiring high heat resistance, for computer chip manufacturing and insulation, and in cancer treatment known as Boron Neutron Capture Theory. However the difficulty of fabricating BNNTs has hindered their commercial adaptation.

At Michigan Tech, researchers have recently developed a new fabrication process that may make BTTNs more commercially competitive. A simple growth procedure has been developed to produce BNNTs in a conventional resistive tube furnace. The uniqueness of this approach utilizes a closed-end quartz tube to trap the growth vapor to enhance the nucleation probability of BNNTs at relatively low temperatures. Additionally, this process incorporates a magnesium oxide (MgO) coating on the substrates which further enhances the yield of BNNTs and allows for growth directly on the substrate. The fabrication process requires only a conventional tube furnace and is capable of producing higher yields through a more efficient conversion process.

A provisional patent application has been filed on this technology. Exclusive or nonexclusive license options are available. For more information contact John Diebel in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, 906-487-1082.