Iowa State and Danfoss team up to build one-of-a-kind dynamometer at new lab
Athletes can measure the performance of their heart and lungs on a treadmill, but testing the motor efficiency and emissions of a skid loader requires a much bigger setup.
Iowa State University's BioCentury Research Farm, located between Ames and Boone, showcased at an open house this week its new Off-Highway Vehicle Chassis Dynamometer Laboratory — the result of a collaboration with the university and Ames-based Danfoss Power Solutions. A dynamometer is a device use to measure engine power.
The lab won't officially open until November, but the university previewed the facility during this week's Farm Progress Show, held nearby.
The dynamometer at the heart of the lab is a massive machine that can hold other massive machines on top of it — everything from "small utility tractors to the very biggest four wheel drives," including the largest agricultural sprayer or combine, said Stuart Birrell, a professor in Iowa State's agricultural and biosystems engineering department, which led development of the lab.
Just how big is Iowa State's dynamometer?
The new lab has the only dynamometer of its size at a public institution in the US.
Each of the dynamometer's rollers — of which there are four sets of six — weighs more than 26 tons. The whole machine can run at amperage load more than 166 times than what is drawn from a home electrical outlet, requiring a special line to the facility from a nearby substation.
Birrell said when the dynamometer is going, it's typically generating power that goes back into the electrical grid.
Each set of rollers can independently test a corner of a vehicle at up to 600 horsepower. Chains anchor vehicles into place to prevent them from rolling away.
The dynamometer has not yet run with loads on it, but it can alternate speed and torque to simulate a vehicle climbing hills and braking. An experiment could run for days, but Birrell said vehicle tires can overheat if used for that long, so most tests will only last about three hours.
"It gives us a unique capability that we haven't had before," Birrell said.
What will Danfoss Power Solutions use the dynamometer for?
Improving efficiency in large vehicles is critical toward curbing harmful emissions, Birrell said.
Internal combustion engines release climate change-causing greenhouse gases and air pollutants such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, which the lab can measure. It also can measure the output of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, as well as how much fuel is used.
Danfoss Power Solutions donated $1.8 million for the lab. Birrell said that covered about two-thirds of the cost, and university funds covered a majority of the rest.
The lab is a public facility not controlled by Danfoss or any another private entity. But Birrell said it will give manufacturers an opportunity to improve vehicle design, particularly the powertrain, the system of parts that moves a vehicle forward.
Lindsay Schleisman, spokesperson for Danfoss Power Solutions, said the company plans to use the dynamometer for "off-highway vehicle research and development," to gather accurate and repeatable vehicle performance data that's otherwise difficult to get outdoors.
The company has field-testing capabilities at application development centers, including in Ames, but Schleisman said the dynamometer will enhance application support for customers and cut down on time for design and research.
"We’ll also continue to support the facility by providing our technical knowhow, which in turn will help ISU support student education and research. We have a long, symbiotic relationship with Iowa State," Schleisman said.
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Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.