The best hybrid cars can travel 50 miles on a gallon of gas. Could they go even farther? Why not, say engineers at GE Global Research. “We’ve built an electric motor that is substantially more powerful than what’s commercially available now,” says Ayman El-Refaie, electrical engineer at the research center’s electrical machines lab. “At the same time we can also improve fuel efficiency by up to 5 percent.”
Silver Bullet: GE engineers built and tested a new electric motor that is substantially more powerful than commercially available motors and improves fuel efficiency by up to 5 percent.
El-Refaie’s team spent the last four years in the lab improving on electric motors that power hybrids and electric cars and convert rotational torque into linear motion, also called traction. In a hybrid car, these electric traction motors sit between the main gasoline engine and the gearbox. They provide both main and supplemental power. In EVs, traction motors are the sole propulsion source.
The new device can accelerate at nearly twice the power delivered by comparable motors. It is also three to five percent more efficient and requires much lower voltage. This means that cars using it can travel longer before they have to plug in or stop at the pump. Because the motor can operate at temperatures higher than the boiling point of water, it does not require a separate cooling system. This makes the motor lighter, simpler, and cheaper.
The motor has applications beyond automobiles. “This technology is scalable and flexible,” El-Refaie says. “What we learned through this project will help us build more efficient industrial motors, high-speed oil and gas compressor motors, and generators for aerospace applications.”