Are innovations possible in mature products such as electric motors? - India Renewable Energy Consulting – Solar, Biomass, Wind, Cleantech
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Net Zero by Narsi is a series of brief posts by Narasimhan Santhanam (Narsi), on decarbonization and climate solutions.
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This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

History tells us that the very first electric motor was made by Thomas Davenport of Vermont, who invented a battery-powered electric motorway back in 1834.

That was a long time ago.

With an almost 200 year history, it will be no surprise that electric motors can be considered a mature product, with very large companies such as GE, ABB and others having stabilized the product and technology over many decades.

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As electric motors find a new application – in vehicles – is there something about them that could be rethought and made in a completely different manner. Put another way, are fundamental and path-breaking innovations possible in electric motors?

Some dimensions possible in motor innovations for EVs:

Custom design for individual motor components

The components in a motor can be designed individually and arranged to achieve greater efficiency.

Tesla recently acquired a patent for development of a new stator design for its motors.

For instance, the company Yasa makes customizable motors manufactured in separate segments. The topology is ideally suited to series production, providing a smaller, lighter, lower cost motor in large volumes.

In addition, sophisticated simulation software are being used to figure out different placements and topologies for motor components to arrive at high performance and high efficiency motors.

Innovations in manufacturing of DC & AC motors

A range of innovations in motors is focussed on improving power-to-weight ratio while maintaining high efficiency.

In this quest, even new manufacturing concepts such as 3D printing are being used. For instance, Equipmake, using 3D printing made a motor which weighs about 10 kilograms while giving a peak output of 295 bhp. The firm is targeting a peak power of 220 kW at 30,000 RPM, while keeping the weight under 10 Kg, leading to a power density of about 20 kW/Kg. In comparison, most of the high-performance motors would perhaps provide 5 kW/Kg.

Extent of innovation

The extent of innovations possible in motors also depend on the  type of vehicles for which the motors are being produced – while motors for small vehicles such as electric scooters or electric bicycles may see only reasonable innovations, motors for larger vehicles, especially SUVs, vans, trucks, and also motors for vehicles on water such as electric ferries and yachts could witness significant innovations.

Motor controllers

It is not just the motor alone that matters when we talk of the motor in the context of EV powertrain. What also matters equally are motor controllers. With advanced software and analytics contributing to better monitoring and control, there is significant innovation possible in motor controllers.

Use of IoT for motor control – Every motor consumes electricity even when it is not running. Turntide technologies developed an IoT connected motor which switches off its power consumption based on vehicle usage.

Power converters and other power electronics

Power electronics that work between the battery and the motor could also see significant innovations. There are already a good many news items on how GaN technology is becoming more prominent in the power converters inverters used, replacing SiC

Motor architecture & layout

Going beyond motors as a product, innovations are possible in the way motors are arranged in an electric vehicle. For instance, some companies are innovating around what is called as motor in wheels, in which the motors are placed very close to or on the wheels themselves.

In-wheel motors or hub motors are independent motors connected around a single wheel. These hub units can house not only the wheels but its entire control technology as the speed controllers, inverters, etc.

In conventional design, power from the motor is added to the long drive shaft, which is rotated and transmitted to the wheels. There are minor time lags that result from this. With an in-wheel motor, motors are installed close to each of the drive wheels and movie the wheels through extremely small drive shafts. Since the drive shafts are so small, there’s almost no time lag for motor power transmitted to wheels, making it possible to control the wheels very precisely.

Integrating the motor with transmission and power electronics  delivers ultra-compact configurations for high power-to-weight ratios, makes cost and weight savings, and can eliminate connectors, cables and hydraulic connections. High vibration, reliability issues and the high cost of developing new axles are also issues that can be overcome with motors on wheels. 

There gave been significant innovations around in-wheel motors. Protean Electric’s in-wheel motor features integrates power electronics and digital control that support both AI and cloud-based services and also includes an integrated friction brake. Infinitum Electric has integrated motor and control electronics and has developed a printed circuit board (PCB) stator for IoT connectivity and improved manufacturability. Volabo’s motor features integrated motor and power electronics and a virtual gearbox. 

Use of AI & ML

We are seeing the application of AI, machine learning and big data analytics to analyze and optimize motor performance. Some key innovations are built-in sensors and connectivity for monitoring and optimization and the use of software controls.

  • Equipmake’s HSI 100 high-speed inverter offers high efficiency, high switching frequency and sensorless control of high-speed motors.
  • Veros Systems apply machine learning and smart algorithms to increase uptime, improve efficiency and offer predictive maintenance.
  • Exro Technologies’ application of artificial intelligence and big data analytics optimizes energy use in batteries, motors and generators; it also controls motor coils through individual coil switching.
  • Wrightspeed’s four-speed, clutchless gearbox uses software controls instead of traditional transmission components.
  • Software Motor Company(Turntide Technologies) have coupled a motor with computing technology, so it only uses energy when needed. The software controls offer dynamic monitoring and predictive maintenance capabilities

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility | EVs versus ICEs | Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation | Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery | Battery Startups versus Giants | Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors | EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies | EV Adoption Paths | Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

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See also: Climate Startup Intelligence from CLIMAFIX

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About Narasimhan Santhanam (Narsi)

Narsi, a Director at EAI, Co-founded one of India's first climate tech consulting firm in 2008.

Since then, he has assisted over 250 Indian and International firms, across many climate tech domain Solar, Bio-energy, Green hydrogen, E-Mobility, Green Chemicals.

Narsi works closely with senior and top management corporates and helps then devise strategy and go-to-market plans to benefit from the fast growing Indian Climate tech market.


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