Iowa State engineer wants to 'sculpt' more powerful electric motors and generators

Jan 26, 2012
Iowa State University's Dionysios Aliprantis is working to improve the performance of electric motors. Credit: Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University

Dionysios Aliprantis took up an imaginary hammer and chisel and pounded away at the air.

"Think of the ancient Greeks and their sculptures," said the Iowa State University assistant professor of electrical and .

Now apply the idea of a sculptor precisely chipping away at stone to the electric motors that run our machines and generate our electricity. Aliprantis is working to develop computer modeling technology that will show engineers how to chip away at the surfaces of electric motors to create new designs and shapes that can increase .

"The goal is to get more out of the same size motor," he said. "Or, that could mean getting the same power with a smaller motor."

Aliprantis is quick to say he's not looking for a huge improvement in a motor's performance.

"I'm looking for a little bit of increase, maybe 5 percent or 1 percent," he said. "But multiply that number by the number of , let's say, and you could get savings in the billions of dollars. The potential here could be huge."

Aliprantis' project is supported by a five-year, $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Program. The grants support junior faculty identified as teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.

Assisting with the motor design project is Yanni Li, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering.

Aliprantis and Li want to take advantage of the fact that most electric motors and generators operate in just one direction – in most applications there's no real need for them to go into reverse. The motors, however, have long been designed to offer equal performance no matter which way they're rotating.

And so the engineers are exploring how electric motors can be improved by optimizing performance in a preferred direction of rotation. To do that, they've written a computer modeling program that incrementally changes the design of the motors – just like a sculptor chipping away – and calculates when the surface shape is just right.

The teeth that hold coils of wire within an electric motor, for example, have typically been built with a symmetrical shape that maintains performance in either direction. By making the teeth asymmetrical, the engineers hope the motor can pick up some power when rotating in the preferred direction.

"We are trying to develop a systematic way of getting to the right shape," Aliprantis said. "This idea is very simple, but motors are still being designed using techniques that are essentially one hundred years old."

Aliprantis is also busy with other projects to improve electric motors, advance alternative energy systems and improve engineering education:

  • Another project is aiming to improve the models used to predict the dynamic performance of electric motors as engineers experiment with different power electronics and control technologies. The idea is to develop more sophisticated control systems that capture more of a motor's performance characteristics. The project is supported by Iowa State's department of electrical and computer engineering and includes Yuanzhen Xu, a master's student in electrical and computer engineering.
  • Aliprantis is also collecting data on how much solar energy is available throughout a day. The idea is to improve power forecasts by developing better models of cloud cover. That would help utilities make better estimates of the power they can expect from solar panels on a given day. Chengrui Cai, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, is assisting with the project.
  • Aliprantis is part of an Iowa State faculty team that's developing a new, multidisciplinary doctoral program in Wind Energy Science, Engineering and Policy. He's also using a National Science Foundation grant to work with Purdue University faculty to improve undergraduate education in power electronics and motor drives by modernizing student lab equipment and course content.
Because electric motors are all around us – in vehicles, wind turbines, power plants and all kinds of machinery – Aliprantis said finding new ways to improve their performance can make a real difference in the development of sustainable energy resources.

Explore further: Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Lightweight electric motor on track

May 11, 2009

A lightweight electric motor designed by Oxford University engineers is to power a new four-seat coupé, with track tests scheduled for the end of 2009.

Don't coil it, pour it

Mar 31, 2011

For the electric car to roll, a lot of large and small components must function in a safe and reliable manner. Parts for wheel hub motors, in particular, need to be constructed in a robust manner. The researchers from Fraunhofer ...

Light electric motor spins out

Sep 10, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new Oxford University spin-out company, Oxford Yasa Motors, has been set up to commercialise lightweight electric motors developed at the Department of Engineering Science. The new technology ...

Improving the performance of electric induction motors

Jan 12, 2012

The School of Engineers in Eibar (UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country) was where Patxi Alkorta, a local professor, defended his thesis, following his research into advanced motor control devices. These control devices ...

Electric drive concepts for the cars of the future

Apr 19, 2010

The prospects look good that wheel hub motors will successfully become the accepted drive concept for electric vehicles. German researchers are engineering these motors, which are integrated into the car's ...

Recommended for you

'Wetting' a battery's appetite for renewable energy storage

11 minutes ago

Sun, wind and other renewable energy sources could make up a larger portion of the electricity America consumes if better batteries could be built to store the intermittent energy for cloudy, windless days. Now a new material ...

New system to optimize public lighting power consumption

36 minutes ago

In order to meet the efficiency requirements of the latest public lighting regulations, researchers from the School of Industrial Engineers of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), in collaboration with ...

Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

23 hours ago

There is much need to develop energy efficient solutions for residential buildings in Europe. The EU-funded project, MeeFS, due to be completed by the end of 2015, is developing an innovative multifunctional and energy efficient ...

Panasonic, Tesla to build big US battery plant

Jul 31, 2014

(AP)—American electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. is teaming up with Japanese electronics company Panasonic Corp. to build a battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. expected to create 6,500 jobs.

Simulation models optimize water power

Jul 31, 2014

The Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest offers great potential for water power; hydroelectric power stations there generate over 20 000 megawatts already. Now a simulation model will help optimize the operation ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dschlink
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2012
I'd assume that improved performance in one direction would mean reduced performance in the other. In most applications, that isn't a problem. Even in a car, one rarely uses reverse for more than a tiny fraction of the time.
gmurphy
not rated yet Jan 26, 2012
The type of optimisation described here is perfect for evolutionary algorithms.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 27, 2012
I'd assume that improved performance in one direction would mean reduced performance in the other.

If that 'reduced performanc' in the other direction means a reduced heat generation then that's OK by me.

Better geometry of coils or smaller supporting structures means less material. Less material means less inertial mass, which is a power saving during acceleration and braking. it would also mean less mass to lug around.

Better coupling of the electromagnetic fields would just up the efficincey.

I hope he finds something. But I bet it will be hard. Engineers have been trying to optimize electric motors for over a hundred years now. If he gets a 1% increase in efficiency then that would be beyond my wildest expectations.