|MotorBrain prototype. Integrated unit is on the left, the motor core is at the right. Click to enlarge.|
The four partners in the European research project ”MotorBrain”—Infineon Technologies, Siemens, the Institute of Lightweight Engineering and Polymer Technology at the Technische Universität (Technical University) Dresden and ZF Friedrichshafen—are presenting their first prototype of a lightweight electric motor system that requires no rare earth metals.
The €36-million (US$50-million) MotorBrain effort is one of the largest single European research projects in the area of electromobility. The MotorBrain prototype integrates the motor, gear drive and inverter. The prototype is three-quarters the size of models from 2011, the year when MotorBrain began; the prototype now being presented could fit in a conventional-sized laptop or notebook backpack.
The motor is also lighter than before. The integration of motor, gear drive and inverter enabled an approximate 15% reduction in weight of the powertrain from 90 kg (198 lbs) to less than 77 kg (170 lbs). A medium-sized vehicle with MotorBrain electric motor and performance of 60 kW (equal to about 80 hp) would be able to drive about 30 to 40 kilometers (19 to 25 miles) farther than today’s electric vehicles with their average range of approximately 150 kilometers per battery charge.
Rare earth metals are currently a fundamental cost driver in hybrid and electric vehicles. Today rare earth metals are an important component in the permanent magnet of any electric motor, generating a particularly strong, constant magnetic field. The stronger the magnetic field, the higher the performance capabilities of the motor.
However, obtaining rare earth metals is complicated and environmentally harmful. Also, rare earth metal prices are high and fluctuate widely. The MotorBrain electric motor therefore utilizes readily available and less expensive ferrite magnets. The lower performance level of ferrite magnets compared to those with rare earth metals is compensated for by the specially developed high-RPM (revolutions per minute) rotor of the MotorBrain electric motor.
The project. Led by Infineon, a total of 30 partners from nine European countries are conducting research in MotorBrain with the goal of increasing the range and safety of electric vehicles while at the same time reducing dependency on rare earth metals.
The team includes universities, non-university research facilities, semiconductor manufacturers, electric motor builders, automobile component suppliers and automobile manufacturers.
The MotorBrain project began in the fall of 2011, and will conclude in October 2014. The time beween now and October will be spent validating and proving the research results.