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EE Students Semifinalists in International Energy Competition

April 24, 2007

A team of seven University of Texas at Arlington undergraduate electrical engineering students has reached the finals in the 2007 International Future Energy Challenge, an international competition organized by IEEE Power Electronics Society and the Power Supply Manufacturers Association. Teams from Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Germany, Korea, Sri Lanka and the U.S. entered in the competition, but only nine became semifinalists.

The team’s challenge is to design and develop a universal adaptive charger system for a wide range of batteries (lead-acid, nickel metal hydride, etc.) using a broadly-identified alternating voltage source (95V to 275V and 60HZ to 400HZ). The team, all seniors, began their design in January; one of their device’s unique features is the ability to automatically detect power inputs and the type of battery to be charged. It will also be portable and able to maintain its performance despite input voltage surges and drops and charge up to 16 batteries in series.

Two of the students attended a midterm status workshop in February to report on the team’s progress; they must present a final “Proof of Concept” to judges in May. “This is a very challenging project,” said Dr. Babak Fahimi, director of the Power Electronics and Controlled Motion Lab and the group’s academic advisor. “This team took a project that had been entered by a different group of students last semester and are making it a success. They’re gaining an extensive exposure to power systems and are also developing innovation skills.”

“It’s also causing us to increase our team-building skills,” added Amy Loo, one of the team’s members. “And we’re experiencing ‘real world’ challenges to develop a commercially-viable product that can be used anywhere.” Their innovations and teamwork will be needed to compete successfully in the final competition, as product design and team contributions are judged factors in addition to the charger’s performance and durability.

The team consists of Job Brunet, Mekonnen Dagnew, Ravi Gautam, Nasir Kenarangui, Amy Loo, Matthew Ragsdale and Veronika Stelmakh. Two graduate students, Wei Jiang and Mahesh Krishnamurthy, are advising the team. Each team member is spending about 10 hours a week on the project. The team is receiving financial support from the General Motors Assembly Plant in Arlington.

Dr. Fahimi believes the team’s device has definite commercial potential and plans to file a patent application to protect the students’ intellectual property. “Who knows,” he pondered, “This could be a financial windfall for them and the university.”

In a related event, Dr. Fahimi is the general chair of the 2007 IEEE Vehicle Power and Propulsion Conference to be held in Arlington on September 9-12. Co-sponsored by the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society and IEEE Power Electronics Society, the event will bring together experts from around the world for presentations on advances in vehicular electric power systems.