At this year’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest international high school STEM competition, a young engineer named Robert Sansone took first place and $75,000 in prize money.
These motors are typically used for pumps and fans, but they are not powerful enough for EVs. Sansone’s new model increases the torque of these motors, which do not require expensive and frequently unethically sourced rare-earth metals.
A promising young engineer
Sansone, who is only 17 years old, estimates that in his spare time he has completed approximately 60 engineering projects. Among other innovations, the Florida-based inventor has created animatronic hands, a 70-mph go-kart, and high-speed running boots.
Sansone came across a video about two years ago that explained the benefits and drawbacks of electric cars. The video explained how EV motors typically use rare-earth metals, which are expensive and frequently sourced in an environmentally unfriendly manner.
The high school student set about improving existing models of the synchronous reluctance motor because it does not require rare earth metals. Over the course of a year, he prototyped a new type of synchronous reluctance motor that had higher torque & efficiency than existing models. The prototype consisted of 3D printed plastic, copper wires and a steel rotor. Work on this prototype, which was tested using a laser tachometer to determine torque, earned Sansone first prize at the ISEF, George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award.
Rethinking the synchronous reluctance motor
Large corporations, such as BMW & MAHLE, are developing magnet-free motors for the same reasons that Sansone is. Specifically, the production of regular magnet motors is a stain on the EV industry, otherwise geared towards sustainability. Because the vast majority of the rare-earth metals required are mined in China, the western EV industry is currently heavily reliant on imports.
The new BMW iX M60 will be powered by a fifth-generation electric motor from BMW that is both magnet free and doesn’t use rare-earth-metal. BMW announced that the standard combined output of its new iX M60’s front and rear motors will be 532 hp & 749 lb-ft of torque. Meanwhile, auto parts manufacturer MAHLE released its own magnet-free electric motor that does not require rare earth elements. That motor employs a unique design to generate torque via contactless power transmission, making it both wear-free and highly efficient at high speeds.
The Sansone engine uses a different type of design. Synchronous reluctance motors use a steel rotor with cut air gaps into it, aligned with a rotating magnetic field. The motor creates a magnetic field using magnetic reluctance. Sansone modified the typical synchronous reluctance motor design by removing the air gaps to incorporate a different magnetic field by adding more materials. Unfortunately, he hasn’t revealed any more information just yet as he hopes to patent his design.
Sansone claims it took him 15 tries to create a functional prototype. After conducting some tests, he discovered that the novel design produced 39% more torque and 31% more efficiency at 300 revolutions per minute (RPM) than a traditional synchronous reluctance motor he used as a comparison. It was 37% more efficient at 750 RPM. Sansone was unable to test his motor at higher RPMs because the plastic prototype would melt. Now that he’s gained acclaim & attention for his design, He hopes to be able to conduct tests on a fully functional motor prototype using more sturdy materials. We’ll keep you up to date if and when he does.