ECE Professors Leads Multimillion DOE Grants

Since 2021, ECE Professors Ayman EL-Refaie (Werner Endowed Chair) and Nathan Weise have been leading a two-phase multi-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the next generation of electric drivetrains for aerospace propulsion. This grant, which is a part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Aviation-class Synergistically Cooled Electric-motors with iNtegrated Drives (ASCEND) program, aims to develop an electric drivetrain that meets or exceeds the ARPA-E's system-level targets for power-to-weight ratio and system efficiency. This is achieved through the development of a novel motor enabled by additive manufacturing and a novel thermal management scheme; novel modular power electronics topology; and tight integration concepts coupled with an advanced and shared thermal management system. Last year, the project was approved to proceed to phase two at a level of $3.82 million over two years beyond the phase-one value of $1.6 million. Recently, the team has successfully passed ARPA-E reviews and made a significant progress toward risk retirement and procurement and testing of various components and sub-components. The team started the process of building a full-scale 250 kW system with the goal of building the system and performing verification testing in summer of 2024.
In parallel with the ARPA-E project, Professor EL-Refaie has also been leading a $5.2M grant from the DOE on low-cost electric traction drive systems using no heavy rare earth materials. The project aims to revolutionize electric drivetrains to benefit tomorrow’s electric vehicles in terms of sustainability as well as cost and size reduction. Dr. EL-Refaie and his team are currently focusing on building a full-scale motor prototype that eliminates heavy rare-earth material as an intermediate step of building a prototype that eliminates all rare-earth material. This ultimate goal will be achieved by leveraging the Iron Nitride (FeN) magnets being developed by their partner Niron Magnetics. Also, their project academic partner, Virginia Tech, is building a full-scale prototype of the novel low-cost inverter.  ECE is proud to be a leader in transportation electrification with a number successful industrial and academic partnerships.