New next-generation electric cars for a cleaner Europe
Unfortunately greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles on Europe's roads continue to increase, polluting our cities and the air we breathe. EU-funded SyrNemo is developing an electric motor that may help the EU slash its CO2 emissions and reduce toxic emissions detrimental to human health. Prototypes of the motor have been manufactured and could be in cars soon.
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Road transportation is the only major sector in the EU where greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing. In fact, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from road transport in Europe continue to increase, contributing to as much as one-fifth of the EU’s total CO2 emissions. The EU wants to cut these emissions by 20% by 2020 and by 80-95% by 2050.
“The only way to put a stop to this increase and reduce CO2 emissions from road transportation is to shift toward cleaner and more energy efficient vehicles and modes of transportation,” explains SyrNemo project coordinator Michele De Gennaro. But electric vehicles need to become more efficient, cost-effective and even less harmful to the environment in terms of the sourcing and recycling of raw materials before they become the most common vehicles on our roads.
At the heart of the electric vehicle challenge — rare earth metals
Although battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hybrid EVs (HEVs), and range-extended EVs (REEVs) are already on the market, the uptake of electric cars is only in its infancy. Before these electric vehicles replace cars that run on fossil fuels, De Gennaro explains, “they’ll need to deliver better driving performance (range) and energy efficiency in a lightweight design and at lower cost.”
Electric cars on the market today have motors — known as permanent magnet synchronous machines — that depend on the rare earth metals used to create permanent magnets. This key component in the motors of electric vehicles is one of the barriers to achieving improvements and shifting towards mainstream adoption of electric vehicles.
“Ninety-five per-cent of these metals are sourced from China,” says De Gennaro. Not only does this reliance on Asia-based suppliers increase the cost of electric vehicles, but it also places the automotive industry at increased risk. There is a risk that geopolitics could affect the supply of permanent magnets coming to European vehicle manufacturers from China. This could, in turn, cripple the manufacture and supply of electric vehicles in Europe.
This is not just a supply chain issue, but an environmental one too. Mining rare earths releases harmful elements, such as fluorine, sulphur, acids, and radioactive materials. These harmful elements have already contaminated land and water in China. Exploitable ore deposits of rare earth metals are limited in Europe. Even if it were possible to mine them in Europe, environmental controls would make it difficult to do so.
Clean cars — engine power without harmful magnets
“When you remove the magnets from a motor, it loses three quarters of its power. Our biggest challenge was to find other ways to make up for this significant loss,” emphasises De Gennaro.
Researchers in SyrNemo examined all the subsystems of the electric motor and how they work together. The end result is a machine — a rare earth free permanent magnet assisted synchronous reluctance machine (PMaSYRM) — that integrates more advanced subsystems:
SyrNemo has manufactured two fully functioning prototypes of this motor that do not rely on the existing monopoly of magnet suppliers. More information on the SyrNemo motor design will be published at one of the world’s most prestigious automotive industry event — the SAE 2016 World Congress and Exhibition in Detroit. In addition, parts of the SyrNemo prototypes will be exhibited at the largest transport research event in Europe — the 2016 Transport Research Arena in Warsaw — in April 2016.
As part of the project, the prototypes of the motor have been designed to suit the requirements of an A-segment passenger car. The motor is designed to be scalable for use in larger cars, notably small cars (B-segment cars), small family cars (C-segment cars) and large family cars (D-segment cars). Together, these cover nine-tenths of the EU passenger car fleet.