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The future of aircraft propulsion systems could be vastly improved thanks to research being conducted by the College of Engineering.

NASA has tapped a joint Boeing-UT project for support, with the agency providing $2 million over four years while the aircraft company contributes a share of funding.

“We’ve worked with Boeing for more than ten years on high-density power electronics inverters and built several leading-edge prototypes,” said Fred Wang, professor and the Condra Chair of Excellence in Electrical Engineering. “Our selection by NASA is a recognition that our team is a world leader in this area.”

UT and Boeing will work together to develop an “ultra-light highly efficient MW class cryogenically cooled inverter” capable of providing propulsion power on future flight systems. It would work much like traction inverters in hybrid electric vehicles.

A key part of the project is to be able to provide lightweight technology that’s more efficient than current mechanical systems.

UT will help design, prototype, and test the inverters.

Joining Wang on the team at UT are Min H. Kao Professor and department head Leon Tolbert, Blalock-Kennedy-Pierce Profesor Ben Blalock, Assistant Professor Daniel Costinett, and Research Assistant Professor Zheyu Zhang, all of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Wang said their approach will build on previous work with Boeing on high-density power electronics inverters, but with more stringent targets on density and efficiency at far higher power levels. NASA’s requirements are much tougher than any current inverters can meet, requiring the team to come up with innovative solutions to meet the needs of a hybrid electric propulsion system.

NASA’s goal is to advance the field of fixed-wing subsonic transport aircraft by improving their energy use and reducing their impact on the environment.

“As global transportation continues to grow, it will be critical to reducing the impact of aviation on the environment,” said Wang of the team’s work. “This project will develop new advanced safe technologies and concepts while helping the environment and sustaining the growth of commercial aviation that is so vital to the US economy and our quality of life.”



David Goddard (865-974-0683,