Efficient electric motors have a key role to play in the effort to combat climate change. They can be used to replace combustion engines, which are still run almost exclusively on fossil fuels. However, electric motors have reached their limits with conventional technology, with no significant efficiency gains achieved in recent decades.
Conventionally, copper is used in electric motors in the form of cables and wound coils. Yet accounting for just 0.01% of the world’s raw materials, copper is only available in a few mining regions. When a scarce commodity runs up against rising demand, this poses the risk not only of rising prices but also of monopolistic corporations abusing their position having cornered the market.
More than ten years ago, a team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (IFAM) in Bremen, Germany, proved that there are alternatives available. They developed the cast coil (branded as CASTCOIL), for which they obtained a number of patents in recent years for technological specifications and processes. The research team recently struck out on its own and secured the exclusive rights for use and marketing.
Franz-Josef Wöstmann, one of the inventors and CEO of Cast Coil GmbH, explains this step: “CASTCOIL is a ground-breaking development. The manufacturing process not only allows us to make use of new designs in motor construction, but also allows us to use new materials. Aluminium is particularly noteworthy – it is highly appealing for electric vehicles due to its light weight and ability to support cooling systems without CFCs.”
Innovative geometries, lower weight and the use of a raw material that is the third most abundant element in the world (8.1%) combine to allow for the production of smaller motors, reduced energy consumption and more sustainable resource use.
However, for Denise Ulbrich, head of the Bienenelfe Foundation, this is just part of the bigger picture: “We strongly believe that CASTCOIL is a perfect fit for delivering on our vision of ‘change on a small scale to achieve great things.’ Researchers and academics have successfully overcome a law of nature when it comes to the production of electric motors. The task at hand now is to use CASTCOIL to help shape our transformation and accelerate the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (especially CO₂ and CFCs).”
With its seed investment in the start-up, the Bienenelfe Foundation is taking on the risk and providing the financial means for developing production capacity in Germany and fostering use of the technology around the world. Elaborating on the foundation’s involvement, Ulbrich says: “Financially, the patented portfolio can be valued at a significant eight-figure sum, but we value the positive impact of CASTCOIL many times higher still.”