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Navy pins fleet's hopes on FSU

The military gives a $10.9-million grant to the school to help design

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The U.S. Navy hopes Florida State University can make its dream of all-electric ships come true, and it's giving the school $10.9-million to do it.

The grant to the FSU Center for Advanced Power Systems, housed at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, will allow FSU and naval scientists to design a blueprint for an all-electric fleet.

During the next two decades, their research will be used to build a "new generation" of ships that are more efficient and combat-ready than traditional steam- and fuel-powered ships, said Admiral Jay Cohen, director of the Office of Naval Research.

Announcing the grant Tuesday, Cohen compared the Navy's anticipated switch to electric power to the historic transition from sails to steam-powered boats.

"This transition to the all-electric Navy is of that magnitude," Cohen said.

Now, the Navy's 330 aircraft carriers, submarines and other vessels are powered by nuclear reactors, oil-fueled boilers, diesel engines or gas turbines, Cohen said.

Those systems consume up to 90 percent of ship space and require as many as 400 sailors per vessel, Cohen said. Using electric propulsion systems will free up space and cut crew size to about 95 sailors per ship, he said.

Eighty percent of power produced by the traditional systems must be reserved for propulsion, even when the ships aren't moving at maximum speed, Cohen said. That leaves only 20 percent of available power for other uses. An electric-powered ship would offer more flexibility and enable the Navy to take advantage of developing technologies such as high-powered weapons and electro-magnetic aircraft launchers.

With the grant, FSU is expected to establish a "research agenda" for the project, said Raymond Bye, FSU's vice president for research. During the next 15 to 20 years, power companies across the nation will compete for more research dollars to construct the plans designed by FSU scientists.

While all-electric ships aren't expected until 2020 at the earliest, the Navy expects to unveil a ship that uses electricity for propulsion only in 2011. The DD 21 Land Attack Destroyer is expected to cost between $750-million and $1-billion.

The FSU Center for Advanced Power Systems includes scientists from the Florida A&M University-FSU College of Engineering and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

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