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Illinois Tech Associate Professor Receives Research Award to Innovate Electric Traction Motors

As automakers begin to phase out vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines to reduce fuel emissions and promote environmental sustainability, Illinois Institute of Technology is gearing up to propel transportation technology forward through cost-effective and compact electric traction drive systems. 

Illinois Tech has received research funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy as part of Electric Drive Technologies (EDT) Consortium, a multidisciplinary program that will plan, establish, conduct, and manage a portfolio of multi-national lab and multi-university efforts to advance electric drive technologies.

Ian Brown, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his team of graduate student researchers were selected to participate in the consortium for a duration of approximately five years, with a focus on investigating power density improvements and cost reduction of automotive electric traction motors to meet or exceed United States Driving Research and Innovation for Vehicle Efficiency and Energy Sustainability (DRIVE) 2025 motor targets.

The consortium consists of 10 universities and four national laboratories—Ames Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratory—addressing power electronics, electric motors, and traction drive systems. 

Brown explains, “The main focus of the consortium is to improve the power density of traction electric drives by 10 times while reducing their cost by 50 percent and doubling the lifetime miles within the next five years.” He adds, “Improvements to electric drive system power density, and especially cost, is needed to drive the adoption of electric vehicles.” 

His research group is leading Illinois Tech’s efforts to develop an electric motor with power density greater than 50 kilowatts per liter, and costs less than 3.3 dollars per kilowatt. This initiative aims to achieve significant power density gains and cost reduction through the synergistic combination of electric machine design, high-slot fill factors, control of space harmonics, and high-speed motor control. 

Brown indicates that these technologies are critical in regard to the future competitiveness of the U.S. automotive industry. “As power electronics technology continues to develop and enable higher operating temperatures, system voltages, and switching frequencies, these motortechnology improvements will be necessary to realize electric drive system benefits,” adds Brown.

According to the 2019 EDT Consortium Research Plan, while electric traction motors have experienced significant improvements over the past 20 years, innovations to their design, materials, topologies, and manufacturing methods are critical to reaching 2025 motor power and cost targets, which includes improved cooling and operation at higher speeds.

The overall consortium research efforts seek to benefit electric vehicle manufacturers, electric drive and power electronics manufacturers, motor manufacturers, and motor vehicle consumers, in addition to a wide variety of other industries.

Ian Brown, “Design, Optimization, and Control of a 100kW Electric Traction Motor Meeting or Exceeding DOE 2025 Targets,” Department of Energy, ($1.5 million; Illinois Tech: $200,033).

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