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New motor technology nears commercialisation

New motor technology nears commercialisation
Nissan's announcement that it will build its new Leaf electric car at its Sunderland plant is great news for the UK automotive industry and a further shot in the arm for Britain's growing base of electric vehicle expertise. We can now boast, for example, a number of specialist electric motor manufacturers who lead the world in development of motors specifically optimised for electric vehicle applications. 

Not least of these is Oxford Yasa Motors, the company spun out from Oxford University last year to develop and commercialise the innovative Yokeless And Segmented Armature (YASA) topology - a new type of axial flux motor that demonstrates a step change improvement in torque density when compared to other axial flux motors. The topology is based around a series of magnetically separated segments that form the stator of the machine. The step change in the specific torque of the motor (20Nm/kg which is claimed to be typically at least two times better than the best alternatives) comes from the combination of patented improvements in the magnetics, the cooling and the packaging of the motor.

The 500Nm YASA motor has been developed specifically for electric and hybrid vehicles. The motors are compact (34cm in diameter and 7cm wide), and fit within the space of the front or rear differential of a typical vehicle (the differential is no longer required). The motors output 500Nm per 'slice', with a peak power of around 75kW. This means two motor slices are enough for most vehicles. Four slices may be used for sports car type performance, such as the Delta coupe, which aims for a 0-60 time of less than 5s.

For a host of automotive, aerospace, marine and industrial applications where torque, efficiency and low motor mass are critical ingredients in achieving a high performance drive solution, the YASA motor could be just the ticket. And with partners that include Oxford University (with re-search responsibilities in the area of power electronics packaging and novel cooling), Morgan Motor Com-pany (which is providing a mule and road testing the motors), Semikron (responsible for the power elec-tronics solution) and TRW Conekt (responsible for motor testing and validation), plus a host of interesting pilot projects, the potential is certainly there. Of course there is much testing to be done, but still the company hopes to sell 1000 or so motors in 2010, and sees real mass market, high volume potential. There is also funding from the Technology Strategy Board to drive development forward.

We may not know whether the future of electric vehicles is battery, fuel cell, or something else. But we can be sure that innovative motor technologies will be a key part of the equation.
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