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.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, his new idea has the potential to revolutionise the electric vehicle (EV) market. It is a synchronous reluctance motor that outperforms prior generations.
These motors are typically used for pumps and fans, however they are insufficient 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 he has done about 60 engineering projects in his spare time. A 70 mph go-kart, high-speed running boots, animatronic hands, and other inventions by the Florida-based inventor are just a few examples.
Sansone stumbled across a video about two years ago that explained the benefits and drawbacks of electric vehicles. The video explained how EV motors often use rare-earth metals, which are expensive and frequently sourced in an environmentally unfriendly manner.
Because it does not require rare-earth metals, the high schooler set out to improve on existing models of the synchronous reluctance motor. He spent a year developing a prototype for a new type of synchronous reluctance motor with more torque and efficiency than previous types. 3D-printed plastic, copper wiring, and a steel rotor were used to create the prototype. Sansone won the ISEF’s top prize, the George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award, for his work on this prototype, which was tested using a laser tachometer to determine torque.
Rethinking the synchronous reluctance motor
Large corporations, such as BMW & MAHLE, are creating magnet-free motors for the same reasons as Sansone is. Specifically, the production of standard magnet motors is a stain on EV industry, which is other-wise geared towards sustainability. Because the great bulk of rare-earth metals necessary are mined in China, the western EV industry is now heavily reliant on imports.
The new BMW iX M60’s fifth-generation electric motor is magnet-free and does not employ rare-earth metals. BMW revealed that the standard combined output of the new iX M60’s front and rear motors will be 532 horsepower and 749 lb-ft of torque. In the meantime, the car parts manufacturer MAHLE has also launched its own magnetless electric motor that does not require any rare earth elements. This motor uses a special design to generate torque through non-contact power transmission, making it wear-free and highly efficient even at high speeds.
Sansone’s motor is designed differently. A steel rotor with air gaps cut into it is aligned with a revolving magnetic field in synchronous reluctance motors. Using magnetic reluctance, the motor generates a magnetic field. Sansone modified the standard synchronous reluctance motor design by removing the air gaps and adding more materials to include another magnetic field. Unfortunately, he has not yet provided any additional details since he hopes to patent his idea.
Sansone claims it took him 15 attempts to create a working prototype. After conducting several testing, he discovered that the new design produced 39% more torque and 31% more efficiency at 300 revolutions per minute (RPM) than a typical synchronous reluctance motor he used as a reference. It was 37 percent 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 received accolades and attention for his concept, he should be able to conduct tests on a fully functional motor prototype made of more durable materials. We’ll keep you up to date if and when he does.