The Planning Grants for Engineering Research Centers competition was run as a pilot solicitation within the ERC program. Planning grants are not required as part of the full ERC competition, but intended to build capacity among teams to plan for convergent, center-scale engineering research.
With the rise of flexible, and/or wearable electronics, there is currently no power source that satisfactorily matches the "soft" mechanical properties of the object to be powered. Envisioned applications potentially include sensors, medical devices (e.g. cochlear implants), intelligent packaging, and clothing that converts body heat into electricity to power devices like a mobile phone. Further mechanical integration of power, electronic and thermal management technologies will have major targeted societal impact on the quality of life of millions of workers and individuals; as well as to dramatically improve safety and well-being. A barrier to this challenge is that researchers often focus on an individual component, without holistically addressing the integrated system itself. Therefore, the main goal of this engineering research center planning grant is to identify and build a dynamic team of academic, industry, and national lab stakeholders that will focus on the common goal of soft energy and power, in which each stakeholder's expertise is impactful and synergetic. The Texas A&M University team plans to strategically utilize these planning funds for the engagement of partners for development of an engineering research center (ERC) proposal on the topic of Soft Energy and Power (SEP).
Mechanically integrated, "soft" energy and power (SEP) currently faces many challenges, which can only be met by integrating expertise and know-how from a diverse team using a convergent approach. The currently perceived challenges include: 1) balancing mechanical properties with energy generation and/or storage properties, 2) integration between the human form and the device to be powered, 3) long-term durability and 4) cost, economics, and environmental (life cycle) considerations. Initially proposed ERC SEP thrusts include wearables, structural energy and power, intelligent packaging, and systems and design. These thrusts rest upon the knowledge of transport, kinetics, actuation, thermal management, systems design, battery safety, phase change materials, and mechanics of integrated composite materials. To this end, the planning grant will enable the formation of the ERC team, which will include university faculty, key industrial partners, and national laboratories. Together, the team will be involved in the identification and refinement of the goals and the associated engineering barriers upon which to focus in the ERC proposal. Specifically, the outcomes of this planning grant will be that ERC SEP (1) thrusts will be vetted and selected, (2) the team membership will form, evolve, and expand, (3) new technologies and knowledge bases will be identified, and (4) an ERC proposal will be submitted, as appropriate. This will be achieved through workshops to be held at Texas A&M University in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019, and systematic team (academe, industry, government) meetings to drive the common agenda and formulate a powerful and impactful NSF ERC proposal.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.