April 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says they are ready to fund $20 million as an incentive to spur the development of high-speed industrial motors and drives that use high power-density designs and integrated power electronics to increase efficiency.

Replacing Less Efficient Systems Could Help US Industries Save on Energy Costs and Improve Competitiveness

The DOE reported that the industrial sector uses over 25 percent of the electricity produced in the United States. In 2040, the amount of electricity used by this sector is projected to increase by about 30 percent.

What’s the answer to this huge amount of energy consumption? If U.S. industries replace fixed-speed motors and gearboxes with variable-speed direct-drive motor systems and take advantage of recent power electronics advances, such as wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, U.S. industries could save on energy costs and become more competitive.

Why variable-speed direct-drive motor systems?

Because variable-speed direct-drive motor systems are capable of varying the output speed of a motor without the need for mechanical pulleys, their use can reduce the number of mechanical components and overall maintenance. But their biggest advantage is the ability to save the company money by using only the energy that’s needed. These energy savings are realized because the variable speed drive reduces the amount of energy drawn by the motor.

Even a small reduction in speed can provide significant savings. For instance, a centrifugal pump or fan running at 80% speed consumes only half of the energy compared to one running at full speed.

What are WBG semiconductors?

WBG components — which control or convert electrical energy into usable power — can operate at higher temperatures, voltages, and frequencies, and are more durable and reliable than silicon-based counterparts. This provides more powerful electrical mechanisms to be built which are cheaper and more energy efficient.

In fact, the US Department of Energy believes WBG technology will transform multiple markets and industries, resulting in billions of dollars of savings for businesses and consumers when use becomes widespread. The DOE also says that widely deploying these WBG system electronics could save 2 percent to 4 percent in industrial electricity consumption.

What’s the plan?

The DOE says they will select four to six projects, through its Next Generation Electric Machines: Megawatt Class Motors funding opportunity, in order to prove the benefits of using WBG variable-speed drives. These projects will target a 30 percent reduction in system losses and a 50 percent reduction in size for megawatt-scale motor and drive systems.

The DOE has selected the chemical and petroleum refining industries, natural gas infrastructure, and general industrial applications like HVAC systems, refrigeration, and wastewater pumps due to their significant number of motor installations, large amount of electrical energy consumption, and significant opportunities for U.S. technology and manufacturing competitiveness.

The selected teams will develop integrated motor drive system components including:

  • Front end power processing units.
  • Medium voltage class WBG semiconductor-based variable-speed drives.
  • High speed motors that can be directly coupled to appropriate industrial loads.

For more information about this funding opportunity, go to the Energy.gov website Funding Opportunity: Next Generation Electric Machines.