Ricardo Develops Rare Earth-Free Electric Motor
One of the oft-heard criticisms of electric vehicles is their use of rare earth metals in their motors. Mined mainly in China, rare earth metals are used to create the powerful permanent magnets used in millions of electric motors. The mining process is environmentally destructive and the refining process highly polluting. Equally troubling, from a national security perspective, China essentially owns the global monopoly on the metals. Finding a way to eliminate the use of rare earth magnets in electric motors has become an important research goal within the electric vehicle industry. One of the features touted in the new 2016 Chevrolet Volt is that one of its two traction motors is now rare earth metal-free, while the second motor uses fewer permanent magnets than the first generation Volt.
One of the more promising research paths are switched reluctance motors that use electromagnetic windings instead of solid state magnets to spin the rotor. Precisely timed pulses of electrical energy briefly create magnet flux fields in the windings, pulling or pushing the rotor inside the motor.
Automotive engineering powerhouse Ricardo has developed an 85kW switched reluctance motor they've dubbed RapidSR, which they claim is "highly innovative" and "makes use of low-cost materials, simple manufacturing processes and uncomplicated construction." The motor is illustrated above.
Research on the RapidSR motor began in 2012 with funding provided by Innovation UK. The motor is said to be "high performing, compact, lightweight, and rare earth element free..." Rigorous testing of the prototype will begin in the coming weeks to validate the promising capabilities demonstrated in early computer modeling and simulation. The results hope to demonstrate "a concept that provides an exceptional balance of performance, compact package, light weight and low cost," stated Dr. Will Drury, the Ricardo team leader.
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