Military Embedded Systems

UNIVERSITY UPDATE: Auburn University fosters military, industry partnerships


February 13, 2024

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

UNIVERSITY UPDATE: Auburn University fosters military, industry partnerships
Image: Auburn University

Auburn University, one of Alabama’s two flagship universities, is well-known for sports – but its engineering departments are notching their own wins in the military-technology arena as they help to bolster the country’s national security while giving students a view into the defense industry.

One recent milestone reported by the university was a demonstration in late 2023 that showcased a new way to safely meet the extreme demands of pulse-power electrical systems, tailored for next-generation defense missions. During the December demo, observers witnessed emulated pulse-power mission load discharges powered by a cutting-edge, 1,000-volt lithium-ion battery pack.

A research team from Auburn University and partner company IntraMicron Inc. – a company founded in 2001 to commercialize materials developed at Auburn University – has been working on a battery project to manage huge thermal loads, such as those used or discharged during the use of directed-energy weapons.

“Our technology provides a safe and effective means to remove that heat, which prevents one battery from getting so hot that it might blow up and then cause all the other 275 batteries in the pack to ignite as well,” says Bruce Tatarchuk, IntraMicron cofounder and CEO who serves as director of Auburn University’s Center for Microfibrous Materials Manufacturing and the Charles Gavin III Endowed Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Thermal energy storage is used during defense missions to provide a high-density cooling capability for directed-energy or other battle systems. The university reports that advanced thermal-management techniques enable as much as a four-fold increase in power density, setting the stage for next-generation pulse power requirements.

“From a research standpoint, we at Auburn University focus heavily on societal impact and improving the quality of life, driving our economy, and securing our nation,” states Steve Taylor, vice president for research and economic development at Auburn University. “There’s a significant amount of national-security work that Auburn does across engineering, science, math, and veterinary medicine. IntraMicron is a part of that overall effort in manufacturing, helping to make sure that we have the appropriate industrial base in this country to defend our economy. Making strategic investments in research faculty, making investments in our campus research infrastructure, and making investments in research programs can produce technology we need to defend ourselves. And, in this case, continue to drive our economy forward and keep America safe.”

Auburn co-op students, graduate students, and former co-op students-turned-staff engineers work side-by-side at IntraMicron, Tatarchuk observes. “The military is concerned about workforce development and the strategic supply and access to people versed in technology. The fact that we can align the student educational experience with the critical workforce needs of the future is a big deal.

“Here, we’ve got a university and a small spinoff business working together. We’re not just talking about it. We’re really doing it. We are demonstrating that it’s not just technology and the group of people collaborating. It’s the overarching platform and the model we’re addressing. Who will this impact? Research targets that have societal benefit … this one being national defense,” he adds.

Another of Auburn University’s defense-related projects is a new three-year venture – the recipient of a $50 million grant, the single largest prime research contract ever awarded to Auburn University – designed to help the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center increase the pace of its ongoing efforts to modernize and streamline. The program will be facilitated through the Auburn University Applied Research Institute (AUARI) in Huntsville and run by research personnel from Auburn’s National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (NCAME) and the Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems (ICAMS).

Robert Dowling, AUARI director of research development, says of the Auburn/Army effort: “Our main objective is to enable the Army to incorporate advanced manufacturing materials and methods into existing and future aviation and missile systems. To do that, we’ll develop prototype advanced manufacturing processes required to analyze, design, develop, test, integrate, and sustain qualified components for existing and future aviation and missile systems.”

Dowling calls the project tailor-made for fulfilling one of the AUARI administration’s stated goals: furthering connections between Auburn University’s main campus and members of Huntsville’s defense sector. “With this award, we’ve demonstrated the significant opportunities that can be created for faculty and students when we combine our core research expertise with customer proximity and knowledge,” Dowling says. “AUARI’s proximity to Redstone Arsenal and familiarity with Army customers and missions enabled the AUARI team to develop a highly responsive proposal representing a broad spectrum of Auburn’s research capabilities both on-campus and in Huntsville.”

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