UI research lab director to be feted at 14th annual Innovation Celebration

UI research lab director to be feted at 14th annual Innovation Celebration

URBANA — The director of a University of Illinois research lab is one of several award winners who will be recognized tonight at the 14th annual Innovation Celebration.

Andrew Alleyne, the director of the Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems center, or POETS, will be awarded the Innovation Transfer Award, which is given to a University of Illinois individual or group whose research has "the potential for significant societal impact."

POETS, recipient of an $18.5 million National Science Foundation grant in 2015, aims to create technology that will help electric vehicles — whether cars, trucks, boats or planes — run efficiently and without overheating.

"Electrification has been going on for decades," Alleyne said. "We're surfing a long-term wave."

All electrified vehicles heat up when they're running and need to be cooled.

When these products are developed, mechanical and electrical engineers typically design the components, and then thermal engineers try to figure out ways to cool them down, Alleyne said.

"They're not designed at the same time," Alleyne said. This stems from the way engineers are taught, even at the UI.

"We're no better," he said. "We have separate electrical and mechanical engineering departments. ... It's kind of baked in when you start learning engineering."

With POETS, they're trying to look at both issues at the same time.

"There's not too many places that do both," he said.

Four years after receiving the NSF grant, Alleyne said "dozens of different companies" have used the results of POETS' work, but he isn't able to publicly identify them.

"By being partners with us, they get access to the students and the technology, and then bring the tech in-house and use it in their own products," Alleyne said.

Alleyne is also being recognized Friday for his work on Thermosys, which he described as "a software tool for predicting how thermal systems like your air conditioning system in your home behave." The simulation software is not used in the products themselves, Alleyne said, but helps companies design their products more quickly. This has been used by Thermo King, which makes refrigeration systems for trucks and buses.

"They used that to do a lot of testing of the software they use on their refrigeration units, rather than test cells," Alleyne said, saving them time and money.

As for the Innovation Celebration award, Alleyne said he's "flattered," as "a lot of what we do is applied math."

Most people in his field don't get to transfer that math into technological advances, Alleyne said, so being recognized for that "is pretty humbling."

The Innovation Celebration, which is free to attend, begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Parkland College student union. It will recognize entrepreneurs and innovators in nine different categories. Alleyne was one of three winners announced ahead of the event.