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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Products & processes projects > Friable electric motor simplifies car recycling
Graphic element Friable electric motor simplifies car recycling

Each year more than 14 million cars are scrapped in Europe. Vehicles are broken up and magnetic methods used to separate steel from other materials. Unfortunately, the copper-wire windings inside electric motors are trapped by the iron armatures of the motors and contaminate the recycled steel. The CEMIR project set out to design a friable electric motor armature from compressed iron powder. This breaks up and releases the copper wiring as the car is shredded during end-of-life recycling operations. As a result of this project, a complete electric motor has been produced that satisfies commercial requirements.

Our demand for ever-increasing safety and comfort, from ABS brakes to electric seats, has increased the number of electric motors in a typical car to 40. Future cars may contain upwards of 100 electric motors. Traditionally, electric motor armatures were made from laminated sheets of metal. These are strong, and although they will bend and distort under the pressure of car crushing machinery, they will not break up and release the copper wire wound around them.

New approach to motor design

This BRITE EURAM project successfully designed an electric motor armature which breaks up when crushed, completely freeing the copper wiring for recycling. The motor is also lighter and more efficient. There are enormous potential economic benefits as the world market for electric motors for vehicles alone is worth 2.1 billion. The design can also be applied to electric motors used in white goods and other products. The project partners all expect to benefit from the commercial exploitation of their research.

The primary breakthrough was the application of a manufacturing technique for making components from metal powder to manufacturing the motor armatures. The technique, called moulding or sintering, allows very precise shapes to be cast out of metal powder. The strength characteristics can be precisely controlled so that the motor armature stays intact during use, but breaks up under the forces exerted by the recycling shredder.

The new motor is produced by three of the project partners: metal powder from Hoganas in Sweden is used by Federal Mogul Technology in the UK to make armatures. Faurecia in France then takes these armatures and makes the electric motors.

Advantages of the design include: a brittle steel armature that will break up during recycling; 7% less weight with no loss of power; and 11% reduction in length. The latter is particularly significant as the first electric motors to use the new materials will drive radiator cooling fans - cutting their length will allow reductions in vehicle body length, leading to further savings in materials.

Industry and public benefits

The new friable electric motor has enormous commercial potential and is a real European success story, according to Wilfrid Bergeret from Faurecia, the project co-ordinator. "We anticipate our present production level of two million motors per year will increase by 15% over the next three years, thanks to this new product," he says.

Mr Bergeret believes European research funding was vital because it helped company scientists overcome initial resistance within their own organisations to investing in a new production process. "The funding requirement for project partners from across the EU stimulated the creation of a particularly effective team and this team was able to produce results far more quickly than any single organisation could have done. Better still, the relationships built up during the project will roll on into the future."

Faurecia is now in commercial discussions with several car manufacturers to bring the new motor to market as a component of new car design. Federal Mogul will provide Faurecia with moulded armatures and other parts, using materials supplied by Hoganas. Meanwhile the two research centre partners - Österreichisches Forschungszentrum Seibersdorf and Technical University of Denmark (DTU) - expect to apply the knowledge they have gained during CEMIR to other industrial projects.

  Meeting end-of-life disposal needs

New car costs will increasingly contain end-of-life disposal costs - see Box. This innovation will benefit the public by helping to reduce those costs and so contribute to holding down the price of cars.

The environment benefits from any reduction in the use of raw materials and energy. This new motor uses 7% less material in its production and will allow saving of energy and materials during car recycling. Ultimately European society must use 70% less energy and materials than at present to be sustainable. The CEMIR project is a clear example of how the setting of sustainability targets couple with focussed research funding can deliver the EU agenda of sustainable development.

Improving recycling efficiency

In February 2000, the European Parliament endorsed EC proposals for full producer liability for cars. This means car manufacturers will pay all or a significant part of the costs of scrapping cars. If you imagine every car you have ever owned parked outside your home, you have some appreciation of the scale of the 160 million car problem being presented to motor manufacturers. Any innovation that improves the efficiency of the car recycling process not only reduces costs, but also helps manufacturers meet stiff sustainability targets, such as the targets for recycling materials such as steel and copper defined in the directive.

Most of the metal content of old cars can be retrieved for reuse. The vehicles are mechanically broken up into small pieces. Steel components are extracted from the mix by huge electromagnets. This steel scrap is mixed in with iron ore to make new steel. Unfortunately, the scrap steel from cars is impure. One important contaminant is copper which comes primarily from electric motors.

When cars are broken up, the electric motors survive as a single lump. The iron armatures of the motor are attracted by the sorting electromagnets, bringing the copper coils of the motor with them. Consequently, this very valuable copper is not only not recycled, but also contaminates and reduces the value of the steel. The modern car can contain anything up to 60 electric motors and as the use of electric motors in cars has increased, for automatic windows for example, so has the problem of copper contamination.

New approach to motor design
Industry and public benefits
Meeting end-of-life disposal needs
Improving recycling efficiency

Key data

A project in the Innovative products, processes and organisation key action area has successfully designed and produced an electric motor with improved environmental performance. The use of this type of motor construction in vehicles will save materials and energy and improve the recovery of copper and steel during the end-of-life car recycling process.

Project: CEMIR - Cost-effective electric motors with improved recyclability and less environmental impact (BRPR-CT96-0249)

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