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Little Black Box For Big Green Motors Could Save Billions

A modest looking black box from AC Kinetics, Inc. is a good example of the cutting edge green technology to be showcased at the Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. on February 25. Inside that box is new software called ACKS, which could lead to the next generation of energy efficient electric motors. Even without taking electric vehicles into consideration we’re talking about a gigantic chunk of U.S. and global energy consumption.

How gigantic? The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been pushing hard for energy efficiency improvements since at least 1993, when it estimated that the U.S. industrial sector was using more than 40 million electric motors which consumed almost 70 percent of all electricity used in that sector.

green technology could improve electric motor energy efficiency

Billions Saved with Green Technology

Back in 1993, DOE challenged green tech innovators to come up with electric motor energy efficiency solutions that would achieve an annual savings of 5 billion kilowatt hours by 2000. Translated into greenbacks, that would mean about $250 million in cost savings and a 1.2 million metric ton reduction in carbon emissions.

The agency also hoped for broader applications that could result in an annual savings of 100 billion kwH by 2010.

Fast-forward to 2013, and according to AC Kintetics President Dr. Neil Singer the company’s new software results in a savings of at least 10 percent on up to the 40 percent range.

Going by Dr. Singer’s figures, electric motors consume about 45 percent of all electricity globally, about two-thirds of which goes to the industrial sector. The annual “global spend” on that is about $570 billion, so even a ten percent efficiency improvement would translate into a significant reduction in carbon pollution worldwide.

In its press materials, the company anticipates that globally the new software will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 26 million tons (that’s U.S. tons) and reduce electricity consumption by 104 billion kwH.

Software for More Energy Efficient Motors

AC Kinetics’s new software is based on nonlinear optimization theory, which translates into hardware as the production of high performance while reducing waste energy, which would otherwise be released as heat.

In an interesting twist, the high tech software is aimed at alternating current induction motors, the basic technology for which dates back to the early 19th century (induction motors are based on rotating magnetic fields).

AC Kinetics solves one key problem that became apparent for electric motors as the energy efficiency issue was being tackled in the 1990’s. The expense of making further improvements at the hardware end appeared to be prohibitive, at least in terms of direct economic returns.

As a software solution, ACKS runs right around that obstacle. It is designed to be compatible with existing motors across all sectors including consumer and transportation as well as industrial. Yes, that means electric vehicles, too.

Basically, ACKS automatically controls and adjusts the motor in real time so it generates torque (torque refers to force acting on an object, causing it to rotate) with the greatest possible efficiency, while smoothing over unpredictable changes in load and other disturbances.

That’s in contrast to current methods for “tuning” motors more or less by hand, which aside from being a relatively cumbersome procedure involves additional equipment and instrumentation.

According to the company, aside from efficiency improvements leading to lower costs and reduced carbon emissions, ACKS keeps the motor running cooler, which can help extend the life of the equipment and reduce maintenance costs.

Comment Thread is Open!

The last time we covered the Energy Innovation Summit, it was a post titled “Man-Made Wind for the Wind Turbines of the Future,” and boy did we hear from our readers on that one.

We won’t single out anyone, but if you skim through the comment thread you’ll come away with the impression that whoever is running the Energy Innovation Summit lacks a basic knowledge of physics.

That’s kind of funny because the Energy Innovation Summit is run by ARPA-E, DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the technologies that it showcases are selected competitively.

As for Dr. Singer’s rather ambitious allusion to the global reach of ACKS, as it turns out this is not AC Kintetics’s first foray into motor control. Singer’s first invention was designed to reduce noise and vibrations. It was patented by MIT and according to the company it is now in use on “hundreds of millions of machines world-wide,” from computer disk drives to utility cranes.

Image: Energy efficient motor software courtesy of AC Kinetics

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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