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For several years, we’ve been working closely with TEVVA on the development of its hydrogen fuel cell range-extended truck. Part-funded by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), the project, known as SANGREAL has seen us work together to develop a truly game-changing solution for the electrification of the road haulage sector. 

Later this year, Tevva will deliver production vehicles to its first customers, with each vehicle featuring an Advanced Electric Machines rare-earth free high performance HDSRM 300 motor.

Recently, the APC caught up with Tevva on the project, which you can view below.

Five years ago, we set out on our journey to build the world’s most sustainable electric motors. Along the way, we have always sought to develop long-term partnerships with like-minded companies that have wanted our technology to create a bespoke motor offering that fits their requirements. On this path, we have come across businesses in sectors from commercial vehicle to rail to renewables that have been drawn to us because of their desire for a high performing and truly sustainable product.

At AEM, we have a wide-ranging product portfolio that caters to the needs of those in search of an electric motor. Our HDSRM™ product family in particular offers a scalable and modular design to meet a variety of applications, including passenger cars and commercial vehicles, as well as in the maritime and railway industries.

Nevertheless, from time to time, we receive enquiries that specify a change in direction. Typically, the process of partnering with a business to provide them with the right product begins with our team investigating whether any of our products are tailored to their product specification. If there isn’t a match, we will look into how we can develop a product for them. This involves us identifying whether modifications can be made to one of our current motors to fit what is required, or whether we will need to build something entirely new.

In terms of making modifications, we take everything into account, from the length and weight of the motor to the amount of torque the customer requires. Within our product portfolio, there is plenty of room to manoeuvre, enabling us to cater to the needs of our customers to create the right product for them.

If this is not an option, and we see a bigger opportunity at play, we will go the extra mile and develop a bespoke motor with our customers. This process is a collaborative approach; although the designing and manufacturing are done by us, we remain in constant communication with our customers to ensure we are creating a product that fits all their requirements. In our partnership with the commercial vehicle manufacturer, SAF-Holland, for example, we have been holding weekly progress meetings and maintaining an ongoing action list for over a year now. Over this period, we have designed and manufactured a bespoke motor that integrates into SAF Holland’s innovative e-axle system, the TRAKr.

For these bespoke projects, we typically anticipate that the motor will be ready in 12 months, but we will always adapt to the situation at hand. As the manufacturer of the world’s most sustainable and high-performance electric motors, we welcome interest from other companies in establishing long-term relationships that can facilitate the development of the sectors we operate in. Whether our active product range is suitable for a prospective client’s needs or not, we are always open to collaborating and finding the right solution.

No secret has been made of the global ambition to reach net-zero emissions and greater sustainability. On the surface, this is an excellent and highly necessary initiative, but it hasn’t come without its challenges.

One of the greatest challenges we are beginning to understand the true scale of, is the growth in demand for raw materials; from neodymium to cobalt to copper. Copper is central to the new technologies being created to meet the world’s environmental goals, with The Institute for Human Rights and Business predicting there will be a 300% rise in demand for copper by 2050. This equates to 60 million tonnes of the metal being required every year, but at what cost?

THE COSTS OF COPPER

As demand increases, so does the environmental, human and financial cost

Up until now, the demand for copper has remained at a manageable level. The capacity to recycle the copper in circulation to meet demand has been hugely beneficial, as it has reduced the need to mine for it. Copper mining has a known detrimental impact on people’s health and the natural environment, leading to land degradation, deforestation, and water and air pollution. Unfortunately, with demand on the rise, recycling the existing copper will no longer be sufficient, leaving no option but to greatly increase the levels of mining.

We must also consider the financial cost of copper. In March 2022, prices spiked for the third time in less than a year, as copper stocks approached historically low levels of just 200,402 tonnes – that does not even cover three days of global consumption at the current rate. As the world risks ‘running out of copper’, CNBC reports that prices could rise to $20,000 per tonne in the next five to ten years, which when combined with the expected rise in demand begins to paint a very costly picture.

COPPER AND THE ELECTRIFICATION REVOLUTION

This is a scaling problem driven by the rise of electric vehicles

Since Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction using copper coils over 200 years ago, copper has been the metal of choice for an electrical conductor. It is, therefore, no surprise that copper is at the very core of the electric revolution. Electric vehicles are key in the global drive towards net-zero, but their batteries, motors, electrical components and even charging equipment all use copper to function.

In electric vehicles, traction motors contain copper coils that an electric current passes through to generate mechanical energy that will spin the motor and propel the vehicle. This contributes to the average battery-electric car containing 83kg of copper, which is four times that used in petrol and diesel cars.

With governments across the world setting deadlines to ban the sale of petrol, diesel, and even hybrid vehicles, battery-electric vehicles will begin to monopolise the market. According to the Financial Times, if electric vehicle sales hit the expected 40% increase by 2030, around eight times more copper will be required for annual vehicle production.

Is this a problem?

The argument goes that copper is one of the most highly recycled metals, with around two thirds of all copper mined still being used today. However, demand has never been this high, and the copper in electric motors is extremely difficult and expensive to extract for recycling, which means the motors, and the copper in them, often just ends up in landfill. As EV production ramps up, so does the amount of copper being demanded but not recycled. Unless an alternative is found, more copper will have to be mined, but is this really a sustainable future?

A DIFFERENT FUTURE

How we can support the sustainable growth of electric vehicles

We see a different future. As experts in designing and manufacturing the most sustainable electric motors, we have developed an alternative technology that will allow us to remove copper from our next generation motors. AEM has designed highly compressed aluminium windings to replace traditional copper coils that maintain the performance characteristics of the electric motors, but in a more efficient and sustainable way.

It is undeniable that copper will have a huge role to play in the future of the electric revolution, and required supply will need to greatly increase to meet the demand. However, it is important to us at AEM that we are always striving for the most sustainable solutions, why else are we all investing so much in electric vehicles if not to ensure a greener future?

It’s difficult to ignore the increasing number of electric vehicles (EV) arriving onto our streets. In the UK, electric vehicle licence plates boast a strip of green as a sign to others that it generates zero tailpipe emissions. From fuel stations to supermarket car parks, spaces are being handed over to electric vehicle charging points.

The electric vehicle revolution has begun. The question is, at what rate is it expected to grow and at what point will we live in a majority EV world?

SCALING UP

The demand is only set to grow

According to data from the SMMT, the industry body that monitors registrations in the UK, battery electric vehicle sales grew by more than 26% last year and, in doing so, secured around a quarter of the market share. Naturally, it would be a bold and somewhat unrealistic prediction to say that, by continuing to grow at this rate, all cars sold in the UK will be battery-electric by 2025. But plans put in place by the UK Government will see the sale of new non-hybrid internal combustion vehicles banned by 2030.

Looking at the global picture, the expected growth of electric vehicles over the next decade is more modest but by no means insignificant. Research by BloombergNEF suggests that, by 2025, worldwide EV sales are expected to reach 14 million per year, with a global fleet totalling 54 million vehicles.

SUSTAINABILITY IS CRITICAL

Higher demand leads to a higher environmental burden if technology doesn’t change

There’s still a considerable amount of uncertainty beyond this point. Factors including the price of components, infrastructure viability and governmental incentives will undoubtedly impact the speed of adoption. If the predictions are correct and we’re on track to reach annual sales of 14 million EVs globally by 2025, in the shorter term we all need to play a part in delivering sustainable electrification collectively. If not, we risk causing more environmental damage.

Our semi-sinusoidal motor technology is part of the solution. By removing the rare-earth magnets from our motors, we’re also able to mitigate the need for finite materials sourced by dirty mining practices and traded in volatile markets.

Clearly, we’re still several years away from understanding the true EV endgame. In a decade or so, it will be interesting to reflect on how the industry’s predictions were reflected in reality. Regardless, we hope that others will join us in ensuring that the journey is made with true sustainability at its core.

As has been established, electric vehicles (EVs) are not without their drawbacks. Recycling issues and the modernisation of rare earth mining practices are big obstacles that need to be overcome in order to ensure a sustainable transition to implementing electrified transport. To compound this, any alternative solutions put forward are challenged with the need to be at least as powerful, torque dense and efficient as existing technologies.

The electric motor is a critical element of the EV powertrain, and must not be overlooked in the search for greater sustainability. For years now, the conventional permanent magnet machine has been the motor of choice for automotive manufacturers, and has been regarded as the most effective solution for electric vehicles. We have already established the environmental issues that this technology brings to the fore, and this has not been lost on vehicle manufacturers, who are now actively seeking rare-earth free alternatives.

The problem with this type of motor is not just environmental, but its relative cost and complexity. However, as some manufacturers move to rare-earth free options, they are finding themselves compromising efficiency and performance, and in some cases, their solutions are even less sustainable due to their increase in size and the increased amounts of alternative materials they use.

Step forward AEM. Our solution takes away these concerns, removing rare earth magnets from the motor design and simultaneously improving efficiency, increasing performance and lowering cost.

How? Well, we’ve replaced the rotor magnet with electrical steel, and the copper coils in the stator with highly compressed aluminium windings. As we’ve established, this has a hugely positive environmental impact, as our choice of materials means our motor is fully recyclable at end-of-life, leading to less e-waste.

The benefits of removing magnets from the motor also mean that operating risks are reduced, with no chance of short circuit currents or the high voltage spikes which can be experienced with permanent magnet motors. We can therefore ensure safer failure modes should something go wrong. In addition, our magnet-free motors have no risk of demagnetisation, as temperatures increase at higher rotational speeds, which allows for our motors to run much faster, whilst also enabling a simpler thermal management system for the vehicle.

In terms of cost, it is expensive to use rare earth magnets in motors, with each motor containing at least $200 worth of magnets alone. The volatile supply of neodymium – the main rare earth metal used in electric motors – also means there is significant scope for the price to increase much further. From February 2020 to February 2022, the cost of neodymium has risen by 312%, with one kilogram now costing more than $236, compared to $42 just two years ago. Put simply, vehicle manufacturers will find it difficult to plan the scale-up of electric vehicles in the numbers required when the cost of a key component can be so volatile.

And then there’s package efficiency. The faster a motor spins, the more power dense it can be. Typically, this faster spin will lead to problems with rare earths, but our motor is, of course, a little bit different. Without magnets, we can make the motor spin twice as fast, making it easier to package and lighter in weight. The fact that our motors are inert when not being driven enables the vehicle to coast. This has led to an increase in efficiency of up to 12% being reported by our customers over conventional permanent magnet motors throughout a typical vehicle drive cycle.

As you can see, our solution solves many of the problems that are found in producing electric motors. In order for electric vehicles to be as sustainable as possible, change needs to embraced, and if it is, then a truly green future can be a reality right now.

Find out more about our products.

SCG International Corporation has signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Advanced Electric Machines Ltd (AEM), Cho Thavee Public Company Limited (CTV), and ASIA CAB Co to develop innovative solutions that will enable internal combustion engined cars to be electrified using AEM’s sustainable motors.

Advanced Electric Machines Ltd (AEM) is a leading manufacturer of sustainable electric motors based in the United Kingdom. The company designs and manufactures rare-earth magnet-free EV motors for the automotive and transportation sectors, leveraging its materials, manufacturing, and design expertise to deliver the most efficient and cost-effective solutions. AEM’s sustainable motor has registered several international patents on its proprietary technology since 2016.

James Widmer, CEO of Advanced Electric Machines Ltd (AEM), said: “The MOU represents a significant strengthening of our position in the Asian market. We are delighted to have SCG International as a partner, as it allows us to play a role in building a sustainable electrification future for Thailand and Southeast Asia. The latest order from Asia Cab is testament to this, and we look forward to working with them to develop our future electrified range.”

In line with its vision ‘To Be The Most Trusted International Business Partner’, SCG International aims to leverage its international business expertise in this collaboration and promote clean mobility, complying with ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) principles.

“The collaboration of three Thai parties (CTV, Asia Cab, and SCG Intl) with AEM will not only bring superior technology to the automotive market, but in line with SCG Group’s policy, it will also accelerate the adoption of Clean Mobility,” said Abhijit Datta, Managing Director of SCG International Corporation Co., Ltd. “SCG International values sustainability and hopes that our EV solution platform will contribute to Thailand’s sustainability goals. We will provide our customers a one-stop service with smart, affordable, and worry-free solutions spanning the vehicle’s life cycle.”

  • AEM to lead Coil to Core: Supply Chain for Net Zero CO2 (COCO2) project
  • The COCO2 project will aim to establish a PEMD supply chain in the UK
  • The company’s involvement in the initiative demonstrates its commitment to achieving key industrial and environmental goals

Advanced Electric Machines (AEM) will lead the Coil to Core: Supply Chain for Net Zero CO2 (COCO2) project. The project, which will run from January 2022 to January 2025, will seek to develop a Power Electronics, Machines and Drives (PEMD) supply chain in the UK.

The newly established supply chain will develop cost-effective material supply and manufacturing of new high strength steels using innovative mass production processes. This will deliver patented lamination designs that can be stacked into novel rotor and stator sub-assemblies, allowing the mass production of more efficient and sustainable electric machines. These machines can be used across a wide range of applications in the transport, energy, and industrial sectors.

Throughout the project, AEM will be working alongside partnering organisations such as Tata Steel, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), and Coventry University. The project is funded by the Driving the Electric Revolution challenge at UK Research and Innovation.The project team’s goal is to establish a supply chain with a clear end-to-end route to market for electric vehicle drivetrains. To ensure the supply chain is both attractive to the market and profitable, the team will also undertake production costing and value chain analysis.

The COCO2 project is a clear demonstration of AEM’s commitment to achieving key industrial and environmental goals within the UK. Among these is a pledge to support innovation by developing a versatile range of materials, processes, and sub-assemblies. This innovation will produce the basis of more efficient and more sustainable electric machines that exclude the use of rare earth materials and copper.

In accordance with the UK’s drive towards net zero, sustainable routes to electric motor production will be established throughout the project. This, coupled with the development of sustainable electrification solutions, ensures that the initiative falls in line with the Government’s target of achieving a green industrial revolution in the transport, energy and industrial sectors.

James Widmer, CEO of AEM, said: “The growth in the electric vehicle market in recent years has shone a light on the need to bolster the electric vehicle driveline supply chain. The Coil to Core: Supply Chain for Net Zero CO2 project will see AEM and our partners establish a clear path for the mass production of efficient and sustainable electric machines. As a result, the transport, energy and industrial sectors will have an array of more environmentally viable options at their disposal.”

It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that without power electronics the modern world would grind to a halt.

Power electronics has a role in just about every electrical engineering function that you can imagine. It’s in your mobile phone, it’s in your electric car (if you have one), and there will be a multitude of electronic devices in your home that rely on power electronics.

The question, then, is what on earth is power electronics?

Power electronics uses semiconductor technology to control the flow of electrical energy from a source, such as a battery, to a load, such as a traction motor. In other words, it is a sort of ‘invisible’ technology that makes electrical systems work.

Power electronics is so widely used because it is an incredibly efficient way of converting one form of electrical energy into another. And so it is that these complex pieces of technology are going to be in high demand as we embark on the express EV scale-up that the industry is bracing itself for.

The future of power electronics

Now, there are a number of key technological drivers for power electronics in today’s market: reduced costs, increased efficiency, increased power density, simple and flexible application, environmental tolerance, and life cycle.

The unique challenge of designing power electronics, however, is that improving one design criterion may adversely affect another. For example, if you try to make a system more cost-effective, it might affect the size of the unit and therefore reduce the power density.

However, that’s not to say that the automotive industry shouldn’t strive for better. In an earlier blog, we looked at the global problem of e-waste, to which power electronics is, unfortunately, a contributor. To make progress, we need to develop power electronics that are more sustainable, more affordable, and highly resilient.

The challenge with sustainability is that power electronics systems are made up of a complex cocktail of polymers, ceramics, semi-conductors and metals like copper, aluminium and tin plus small amounts of precious metals such as silver and  gold. All of these materials have different lifecycles, and some are difficult or impractical to recycle.  

The three Rs

The industry’s success in overcoming this challenge will, to a large extent, depend on how it can deliver agains the ‘three Rs’.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Reduce means using less raw material and less energy in our manufacturing. It means using recycled material where possible, replacing difficult-to-recover materials if we can, and making products that are even more energy-efficient.

Reuse means designing power electronics for a longer life, as well as designing them for reuse and remanufacture. Central to this is making systems that are easier to dismantle so that valuable parts can be recovered.

And Recycle simply means we become less reliant on materials that cannot be recovered and recycled.

At Advanced Electric Machines, we strongly believe that this is the path we must take, and the time to accelerate change is now.

If you’ve followed our work over the past couple of years, especially during last year’s COP26 summit, you’ll know that we’re not afraid to draw attention to the volatile world of rare-earth metals. In fact, we’ve been banging the drum of discontent ever since we started AEM in 2017.

As a bit of background, most electric vehicles on our roads today use permanent magnet motors. This is because it’s a proven technology and was, until now, thought to be the most efficient means of powering a vehicle. The issue we have with permanent magnet motor technology is that each unit uses some 2kg of rare earth magnets.

THINGS NEED TO CHANGE

There are grave costs to using rare earth metals

The mining of rare earth metals is, in short, damaging to the environment and harmful to those involved. For every single tonne of rare earth metals mined, it’s been reported that up to 1.4 tonnes of radioactive waste can also be produced. Mining 12 tonnes can generate enough acid-containing sewage water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. If you compare rare earth mining to steel production, mining rare earths creates over 11 times more CO2 for every tonne of steel manufactured.

It’s not just the social and environmental issues of rare earth mining that need to be considered. As their name suggests, rare earth metals are only available in low quantities globally due to the highly complex process involved in their extraction. And scarcity, unsurprisingly, translates into a premium price point and a volatile trading market. Between March 2020 and March 2021, the cost of neodymium (a key element in electric motor magnets) increased by 240%. How can vehicle manufacturers scale their models with fluctuations as dramatic as that?

REMOVING RARE EARTHS

The only way to eliminate this problem is to eliminate the rare earths in motors

It’s hard, however, to criticise the practice when it seems that no viable alternative is available. That’s why we’ve spent several years developing our own semi-sinusoidal motor technology that does away with the rare earth magnets that limit an electric motor’s scope.

By removing the magnet in our design, AEM motors can spin twice as quickly as a permanent magnet motor. This makes it up to 12% more efficient and kinder to the environment. We’re also exchanging the copper windings for a compressed aluminium design. It means that our motor is made almost entirely out of steel and aluminium – both of which are easy to recycle through existing channels.

Thankfully, we’re starting to see the awareness around rare-earth mining grow. We’ve seen it not only amongst the major automotive manufacturers and their engineers, but with the rising number of environmentally conscious product buyers, too. We all have an appetite to go green, but it will be all in vain if we don’t remember our duty to do so sustainably.

Electronic waste is an increasing problem that no one is talking about

Consider the efforts that have gone into properly disposing of plastic waste. Years of campaigning to rid the world of unnecessary and damaging landfill led to a reformed approach to recycling, with plastic now widely recycled. These efforts that went into making the recycling of plastic waste a global concern massively impacted public attitudes.

Now, generally speaking, electronic waste – or E-waste – is not typically at the forefront of your mind when it comes to landfills and recycling, but, as with plastic, it is a global issue. In 2019 alone, a whopping 53 million tonnes of E-waste was registered, with only 17% of this recycled. Compare this to the recycling rate of plastic in the UK in 2018, where 43.8% of plastic packaging waste was recycled, and you can see a stark difference. Perhaps, then, it is about time that we reassess how we deal with E-waste.

The 83% of electronic waste that was not recycled in 2019 would have either been thrown into landfill or shipped off to other countries and dumped there. For example, the commercial district of Agbogbloshie in Ghana is one of the world’s principal recipients of such waste. E-waste arrives here in its hundreds of thousands of tonnes and has a detrimental impact on the health of the informal workers that are responsible for sorting it. Wishing to clearly emphasise the severity of the matter, Stephen Sicars, an environmental director at the United Nations’ Industrial Development Organization, said that “E-waste is a growing global challenge that poses a serious threat to the environment and human health worldwide”.

ELECTRIC CARS AND E-WASTE

Unless we make a change now, EVs will create an unprecedented volume of E-waste

Unfortunately, with the world reaching unprecedented technological heights, this problem is only going to get worse. In the automotive industry in particular, E-waste is going to be especially troublesome. The global efforts to lower vehicle emissions have seen many countries committing to only producing electric vehicles. In theory, this is good news, but it doesn’t take electronic waste into account; as more EVs are manufactured, the greater the scope is for more E-waste to be produced.

Part of the reason why so little of this waste is recycled is because of its complex structure. The metals, magnets, wiring, and remaining electrical current make it difficult – and even unsafe – to recycle. This is particularly the case with an electric motor, which powers electric vehicles. The motor that is used in the majority of these cars is called a permanent magnet machine, but these require rare earth metals such as neodymium or dysprosium, which can be magnetised to become permanent magnets. On top of this, these motors need a copper coil to enable an electric current to rotate the magnet and create mechanical power.

THE SOLUTION?

We deliver electric motors that are fully recyclable

The process of recycling one of these electric motors is complicated, requiring the removal of the copper coil and magnets before the motor can be recycled. This is not a simple task, and is often deemed too expensive to even attempt, so electric motors are just being thrown into landfill. As was the case with the internal combustion engine, a more environmentally sustainable alternative is required.

AEM’s technology is the solution. Using no rare earth metals and replacing copper with aluminium, our electric motors can be put straight into an arc furnace and melted down, making them fully recyclable and removing the contribution to e-waste. This technology promises to make a huge mark in the automotive industry’s mission to become more environmentally sustainable.