Press Release 089/2022

Mobility: Resource-efficient Production - Emission-free Driving

Electric Motors without Rare Earths and Even More Flexible Production - Researchers are Working on the Mobility of the Future for Baden-Württemberg
Among other things, novel electric motors without rare earths are developed at the ICM and subsequently installed and tested in the experimental vehicle “eVee“ (Photo: Amadeus Bramsiepe, KIT)
Among other things, novel electric motors without rare earths are developed at the ICM and subsequently installed and tested in the experimental vehicle “eVee“ (Photo: Amadeus Bramsiepe, KIT)

Staying mobile and producing without overburdening the environment is the claim of the InnovationCampus Future Mobility (ICM) of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Stuttgart. Almost 300 researchers are working in more than 60 projects and 40 institutes on electric motors without rare earths, new manufacturing technologies, and self-learning software systems for vehicles. The ICM is one of the largest initiatives on future mobility and production in Germany. Initial solutions developed at the ICM show that economic success and ecological responsibility are not mutually exclusive, but can even complement each other. Some of them have been presented on October 12, 2022 at the "Future Mobility Open Labs" at KIT.

"Baden-Württemberg is helping to shape the transformation to sustainable and resource-conserving mobility: By combining the two research-focused universities KIT and University of Stuttgart in the InnovationCampus Future Mobility, we are creating an attractive research environment. Bright minds from the scientific community will come together here to provide the foundations for tomorrow's mobility and production technologies through excellent interdisciplinary research," says Baden-Württemberg Minister of Science, Research and ArtsPetra Olschowski. "The InnovationCampusFuture Mobilityis a research flagship where building blocks for a climate-neutral future are being developed.“ 

The path taken so far, joint successes, and the future of the ICM were presented at the event by Professor Thomas Hirth, Vice-President for Transfer and International Affairs at KIT, and Professor Peter Middendorf, Prorector for Knowledge and Technology Transfer at the University of Stuttgart.

Material-saving and maintenance-free Electric Motors 

"We cannot shape a sustainable and livable world without technology. Laying the foundation for this is the task of science. This is also the core of the mission of ICM," says Professor Albert Albers, Head of the Institute IPEK, KIT’s Institute of Product Engineering. Prototypes of novel electric motors already exist: "Reluctance motors do not require permanent magnets and rare earths. This makes them very sustainable and resource-saving," says Professor Nejila Parspour, Director of the Institute of Electrical Energy Conversion at the University of Stuttgart. "Today, however, these machines are not yet used in vehicles because of their lower power density. The ICM is therefore developing ways to increase the speed of the motors, , while keeping the torque high and the losses at bay." Another field of research: Electrically excited motors. Unlike permanently excited rare-earth motors which are used in nearly every vehicle, these motors promise higher efficiencies at medium to high speeds which means more range for battery-powered vehicles. Currently, these machines are still prone to wear; energy is transferred to the rotor shaft via slip rings which wear out over time and need to be replaced. At the ICM, researchers are working on a maintenance-free inductive energy transfer that can make this type of motor suitable for series production for the broad mass of vehicles on the market.

Billd 2: Neuartige E-Motoren ohne Seltene Erden für die lokale Fertigung in Baden-Württemberg entwickelt ICM.
Lighter, more efficient, more powerful, more sustainable: ICM is developing novel electric motors without rare earths for local production in Baden-Württemberg (Photo: Uli Regenscheit, University of Stuttgart, ICM)

Self-learning Vehicle Fleets

The electronic systems in vehicles are becoming increasingly complex, states Professor Eric Sax of KIT‘s Institute for Information Processing Technology. "For efficient and safe mobility, all information and components must interact optimally. The key for this is the corresponding information technology, i.e. software that optimizes itself during driving operation and then makes the acquired knowledge available to other vehicles in the fleet via an over the air communication." Prototypes are currently running with learning fleets of buses. The first series could be available in 2025. 

Production Must be Able to Continuously Adapt to Changing Demands

When the demands on products change, production must change: "Hardly any industry is facing such far-reaching changes as the mobility segment," says Junior Professor Andreas Wortmann from the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units at the University of Stuttgart. That is why systems, machines, and processes in the vehicle and supplier industry must be adaptable, and software should adapt automatically. On top of that, the production process itself offers great potential for reducing emissions. "What is needed, therefore, are flexible and universally applicable manufacturing systems as well as fast and automatic software adaptations," says Professor Gisela Lanza from the wbk Institute of Production Science at KIT. The goal is a universal machine. "We are working on integrating all laser-based manufacturing processes," says Professor Thomas Graf, Director at the Institut für Strahlwerkzeuge at the University of Stuttgart. He adds that 3D printing, welding, cutting, drilling, coating, and heat treatment on a single unit which, so to speak, is the multiple-function Swiss Army Knife of manufacturing, would enable location-independent, highly efficient production without warehousing and logistics chains. (mex)

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Being “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 9,800 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 22,300 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.

mex, 12.10.2022


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