A teenager in a Florida high school has developed a prototype motor that could revolutionize electric cars and how they are built. With sustainability in mind, Robert Sansone, 17, has been working to develop an electric motor that provides the benefits and power of existing motors used in electric cars but does not rely on magnets made from rare-earth materials, which are extremely expensive to obtain and harmful to the environment.
The science and other stuff to know
Traditional electric motors use rotating electromagnetic fields to spin a rotor. Magnets attached to the edge of a spinning rotor generate a magnetic field that attracts opposite poles on the spinning field in permanent magnet motors. The rotor is spun by this attraction, as explained by Smithsonian Magazine.
However, high-schooler Sansone was more interested in synchronous reluctance motors, a type that does not need expensive magnets to create spiral motion. Such motors are primarily used in medium-intensity applications like fans, as they aren’t powerful enough to move an electric vehicle.
This got Sansone going to improve the design. Burning through 14 motors over a year-long attempt, he finally developed a prototype that produced much more torque and attained more efficiency. His design produced 39 percent more torque and 31 percent more efficiency at 300 revolutions per minute (RPM) than a regular synchronous motor.
It is indeed a reality that electric cars are being hailed as the promised solution to our addiction to burning hazardous fossil fuels. They are marketed as essential to saving the planet and the only way to cut down on carbon emissions caused by the internal combustion engine.
However, only a few realize that while electric cars themselves do help to reduce humans’ carbon footprint, their manufacturing absolutely does not.
The cars rely on permanent magnets that are based on materials like neodymium, samarium, and dysprosium. These rare-earth materials need to be mined in large quantities with a single kilogram often costing four figures, in dollars! So, the benefits derived from electric cars’ usage are offset by the fuel burned by the machinery and equipment required to first mine, and then process them into magnets.
Sansone’s design, then, is truly a step in the right direction to make electric cars genuinely carbon neutral.
While the prototype has produced amazing results at lower RPMs, Sansone is working on a 16th motor to test the power and efficiency output at higher RPMs. as he agrees that the high cost of manufacturing and complexity of synchronous motors are a major financial barrier to making their use more and more common.
However, Sansone hopes advancements in manufacturing technology, especially 3D printing, could considerably bring down the cost of manufacturing his novel synchronous reluctance motor.
If Sansone manages to work his way around that obstacle, we could see electric cars and other types of electric vehicles of the future become sustainable in the true sense of the word.
Given his exemplary exhibition of grit, something tells us the teenager has the will to find a way.