In late November, the US Department of Energy allocated $25 million to support 13 projects designed to advance technology used in industrial electric motors. The devices, according to the DOE, account for approximately 70 percent of the electricity consumed by US manufacturers and nearly a quarter of all electricity consumed nationally.
“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 DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). “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 EERE will administer the funds under the umbrella of its Next Generation Electric Machines project, an R&D push to address the limitations of traditional materials and designs used in electric motor components.
Over $14 million of the grants are dedicated to projects involving superconducting coils and wires. The University of Houston, for example, plans to use a metal organic chemical vapor deposition process to achieve four-fold improvement in superconductor wire performance at temperatures where engineers can use nitrogen as the cryogenic fluid.
Professor Venkat Selvamanickam, a leading expert on superconductors and co-founder of SuperPower, Inc. (CSA CSM), will lead the university’s research team. “Superconducting motors and generators made with the wire that will be manufactured using the technology developed in this program can lead to more than six billion kilowatt-hours of annual electricity savings and reduce CO2 emissions by nearly a million tons per year,” he says.
According to Selvamanickam, enabling the use of superconducting machines at liquid nitrogen temperatures could lead to widespread commercialization of the technology. Until now, superconducting machines, including motors and generators, have been built for use at lower temperatures because of performance limitations in the superconducting wire. The devices are most often used in energy, healthcare and transportation, and offer advantages including saving as much as two percent in electricity use in electric motors and generators and up to 10 percent in transmission and distribution equipment.
The DOE also funded projects at the American Superconductor Corporation ($4.5 million), Florida State University ($1 million) and Superconductor Technologies Incorporated ($4.5 million). AMSC plans to use its award to improve the manufacturing process of superconductive wires to improve yield and reduce cost at temperatures where engineers can use nitrogen as the cryogenic fluid. FSU researchers will address the reliability of superconducting coils, while engineers at STI will focus on improving yield and reducing cost at high enough temperatures where researchers can use nitrogen as the cryogenic fluid.