MSU professor develops green engines using 3D printing


EAST LANSING, Michigan – A Michigan State University professor is developing a type of green engine made using 3D printing, which removes waste at every stage of production.

Shanelle Foster, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been working on this research since 2009.

“To me, the engines themselves are green,” Foster said, “but to make them greener we have to think about how they get here, so the manufacturing itself.”

Foster says one way to make the manufacturing process more environmentally friendly is to use what’s called additive manufacturing. This is when something like an engine is made without generating the waste that occurs when engine materials, such as steel, are cut and excess material is thrown away.

“This allows us to only place the material where we want it to be,” she said. “So that eliminates that cutting process and eliminates the waste. “

Courtesy of: Shanelle Foster, PhD

One of Foster’s 3D engines

Additive manufacturing also enables new ways of building engines.

“The properties of this steel in the engines are uniform,” said Foster. “3D printing can allow us to put not only the material where we want it, but the type of material we want. Thus, we can diversify our material.

Foster had the idea to diversify the materials of his engines by observing an unlikely source … spiders.

She noticed that cobwebs are strong and hard to break, and she began to wonder what makes them so durable.

“I started to learn that they use different bristles,” Foster said. “They all look the same, but they use different bristles and they put that bristle where they need it to perform a certain function, which is very similar to what I want to do with the motors.”

By using different materials, motors can also become smaller and more efficient.

An engine tested in Foster's laboratory

Marguerite Cahill

An engine tested in Foster’s laboratory

Thang Phan has been working in Foster’s lab since 2014 and says he’s excited to be working on this new technology.

“It is one of the best laboratories in Michigan that has research capability and equipment and can work closely with the big three auto industries,” Phan said. “So when I had the opportunity to join here, I grabbed it immediately.

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