Australian engineers say greater efficiency will flow from improved electric motors.

University of Adelaide researchers have used new magnetic materials to create revolutionary electrical motors and generators which promise significant energy savings.

Electrical motors remain one of the largest consumers of energy worldwide, leading to plenty of potential applications for improved designs - highly efficient water pump systems being just one possible use.

“In the developed world, more than 50% of all energy generated is used by electrical motors,” says lead researcher Associate Professor Nesimi Ertugrul, from the University's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

“This leaves a lot of room for efficiency gains.”

“A significant portion of these motors are used to drive water pumps. They are invisible, but used everywhere - in pools, vehicles, boats, irrigation and industry. For example, large buildings have multiple water pumps and every swimming pool has at least one water pump which runs for several hours a day, consuming a large amount of electrical energy.”

The University of Adelaide researchers say there a new ways to make motors that operate at lower speed but with higher power output.

This has been made possible by the use of two emerging magnetic materials - soft magnetic composite (SMC) and amorphous magnetic material (AMM) - and two new production techniques to form the 'stator' within the electrical motor or generator.

The stator is the stationary and magnetic part of a motor surrounding the turning rotor.

Both new techniques have been successfully developed and tested with small prototypes, showing substantial energy efficiency gains - up to 90% energy efficiency in small motors compared to 60-70% in conventional motors.

The new motors are also smaller in size for a given power output.

“Currently all commercial motors are made by pressing very thin metal sheets of silicon iron together and then stamping out the shape of the stator from the metal,” says Associate Professor Ertugrul.

“This process is wasteful of the metal sheeting, and also limits the best use of available space for the copper wire needed in motors.

“We've produced new stators using SMC with no need for machining, no scrap metal and improved space utilisation for copper wire for greater power output.”

The research was funded through two different Australian Research Council linkage project grants.

Prototypes have been created and commercialisation bodies are now looking for industry investment to reach the next stage.