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US awards $22m to support next-generation motors

23 September, 2015

The US Energy Department is awarding $22m in funding to five projects aimed at merging wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductor technologies, such as silicon carbide (SiC), with advanced large-scale electric motors, to boost efficiency in high-energy-consuming industries, products and processes. The projects, funded through the Department’s Next Generation Electric Machines programme, aim to cut energy waste by up to 30% and to reduce the size of megawatt-scale motors and drive systems by up to 50%.

The funding is part of the US administration’s efforts to improve energy efficiency and to double US energy productivity by 2030.  It is targeting large motor-drive systems used in the chemical and petroleum industries, natural gas infrastructure, and industrial pumps and compressor applications such as HVAC systems, refrigeration and wastewater pumps.

“The industrial sector uses more than 30% of the energy consumed in the US and is projected to use more, not less, energy over the next 25 years,” says US assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, David Danielson. “Replacing less-efficient industrial motor systems with more advanced, variable-speed direct-drive systems and incorporating recent power electronics advances – such as wide-bandgap semiconductors – could reduce industrial electricity consumption by 2–4%, leading to up to $2.7bn in annual energy savings, reducing up to 27 million tons of carbon emissions each year, and creating high-quality manufacturing jobs.”

The projects will leverage the work done by the Department’s Power America Institute on semiconductors for power electronics, by using WBG technology to drive high-power, industrial and high-speed electric motors and systems.

WBG components – which control or convert electrical energy into usable power – operate at higher temperatures, voltages, and frequencies than conventional silicon-based technologies. They are more durable and reliable, and can eliminate up to 90% of the power losses in electricity conversion compared to current technologies. By focusing on their use in large-scale motors, manufacturers can improve the efficiency and productivity of processes ranging from small-scale machining to large-scale refining, pumping and cooling.

The new funding has been awarded to:

•  Calnetix Technologies, which will design, build and test a high-speed permanent magnet machine and a SiC-based variable-speed drive system using a 4.16kV input. The new medium-voltage motors are expected to achieve up to eight times the power density of similar traditional systems.

One of the recipients of the Energy Department funding is Calnetix Technologies which has an expertise in high-speed permanent magnet machines

•  General Electric, which will develop and demonstrate a MV drive system using SiC semiconductors and a high-speed motor to reduce system footprints and improve power densities and efficiency. The programme will focus on three technology areas: SiC-based MV high-frequency drives; high-speed motors; and advanced insulation systems.

•  Eaton, which will develop and test an integrated 15kV SiC variable-speed drive and high-speed megawatt motor for gas compression applications. This new drive technology will operate with an efficiency above 99% and achieve 10 times the power density of competing drives, providing an integrated, efficient motor and drive system for natural gas applications.

•  Clemson University, which will develop a pre-commercial megawatt-class variable-speed drive based on new motor power converter technologies. The integrated prototype system will be made by Teco Westinghouse in Texas and be demonstrated at Clemson’s eGrid Center.

Ohio State University, which will design, test, and demonstrate a high-performance, high-speed drive capable of integrating into electric grids while avoiding energy losses associated with power transformers. If successful, the project will advance transformer-less drive technologies for various industries and applications.

The programme is part of the Energy Department's wider Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which aims to increase US competitiveness in the production of clean energy products and to boost US manufacturing competitiveness by increasing energy productivity.

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