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Colorado Company’s Breakthrough Design in Electric Motor for Vehicles

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UQM World Headquarters in Longmont, CO

UQM World Headquarters in Longmont, CO.

A Longmont, Colorado-based company has announced that it has made “a significant breakthrough” in developing a non-rare-earth magnet electric motor for use in hybrid and electric vehicles. The company, UQM Technologies, has done the work under a $4 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research and Development Grant, according to a press release, and is cost-sharing 25% of the total effort. UQM is working collaboratively with Ames Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to apply the non-rare-earth magnets in a high-performance magnet motor.

As UQM explains:

‘The key to using non-rare-earth magnets in electric motors for vehicles is our patent-pending motor geometry, which in part defines the shape and magnetization direction of the permanent magnets,’ said Jon Lutz, UQM Technologies Vice President of Engineering. ‘The completion of the electromagnetic design and analysis task is a significant step in the process of advancing motor and generator technology for electric and hybrid electric vehicles, providing an alternative to rare-earth magnets in permanent-magnet motor designs.’

The breakthrough in this new design is that it produces competitive power-density and efficiency with non-rare-earth magnets, said Eric R. Ridenour, President and CEO of UQM Technologies, Inc. “This is great progress toward our objective of identifying magnet materials and technology that can deliver the performance our customers expect while limiting our exposure to price and supply concerns associated with rare earth magnets,” Ridenour said.

As John Severn writes for EngineerLive, “The term ‘rare-earth magnet’ is somewhat misleading, as the magnet is actually an alloy containing relatively small amounts of the rare-earth elements.” He says these rare-earth magnets are typically two to three times stronger than ferrite or ceramic permanent magnets, and, in electric motors, their use makes it possible to have greater performance in a smaller, lighter motor.

“Clearly this has its attractions for electric vehicles, where a lighter, more efficient motor reduces the amount of stored energy that has to be transported in the form of petrol, hydrogen or batteries,” he writes. Severn says the problem is that 95% of all rare-earth magnets come from China, which has reduced export quotas and caused prices to surge.

UQM is a developer and manufacturer of power-dense, high-efficiency electric motors, generators, and power electronic controllers for the automotive, commercial truck, bus, and military markets. The company places a major emphasis on developing propulsion systems for electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel cell electric vehicles.

The next phase under the DOE grant, as Phillipe Crowe writes for Hybrid Cars, is the mechanical design of the motor. UQM is at work on producing a concept unit to be built during 2013, Crowe reports.

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