Drives and Controls Magazine
US invests $25m in advanced motor technologies
Published:  05 January, 2017

The US Department of Energy has announced nearly $25m of funding for 13 projects aimed at advancing technologies for high-efficiency electric motors. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Next Generation Electric Machines projects will address the limitations of traditional materials and designs by enhancing their efficiency, improving their performance, and reducing their weight.

“Advancing these enabling technologies has the potential to boost the competitiveness of American manufacturers and take the development of more efficient electric machines a giant step further,” says Mark Johnson, director of the EERE Advanced Manufacturing Office. “These technology r&d projects aim to significantly improve industrial motors for manufacturing, helping companies who use these motors in manufacturing save energy and money over the long run.”

The 13 projects each address one of four areas identified by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office. They are the manufacturing of:

•  high-performance thermal and electrical conductors;

•  low-loss silicon steels;

•  high-temperature superconducting wires; and

•  other enabling technologies.

In one project, GE will develop a novel ground wall insulation designed to improve voltage endurance by a factor of two, thus cutting energy use in advanced silicon carbide drives by 5–10%. In another, the Californian motor developer NovaTorque will develop a rare-earth-free motor that uses soft magnetic composites and grain-oriented electrical steels in an innovative conical airgap architecture. The project aims to improve the efficiency of a 5kW motor from 92% to more than 96%.

Other technologies to be investigated include: wide-bandgap semiconductor devices; advanced magnetic materials; aggressive cooling techniques; and improved conductors. The projects will also explore recent advances in nanomaterials, high-silicon steel manufacturing processes, and high-temperature superconductors.

Industrial electric motors use about 70% of the electricity consumed by US manufacturers and nearly a quarter of all electricity consumed nationally.