Greener travel from the roads to the skies

25 November 2021

Micromotors are aiding the decarbonisation of the transport sector

At the end of February 2021, there were over 215,000 pure-electric cars on UK roads. Transitioning to more environmentally friendly modes of transport and improving fuel economy will be crucial in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Here Stewart Goulding, managing director of drive system supplier EMS, looks at how micromotors are supporting the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) and improving the efficiency of commercial aircraft.

Global transport emissions increased by less than 0.5 per cent in 2019, compared with 1.9 per cent annually since 2000, owing to efficiency improvements, electrification and greater use of biofuels. Nevertheless, transportation is still responsible for 24 per cent of direct carbon emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Because of this, the decarbonisation of transport has become a crucial part of the Government’s climate crisis strategy.

Last year, the Government released its Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge report, which detailed what must be done to reduce transport emissions to reach net zero by 2050. Efficiency improvements in aircraft technology and switching to EVs are two strategies covered in the document, and innovative motor technology can catalyse progress in these areas.

Charging ahead

As part of its decarbonisation strategy, the Government has banned the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and vans from 2030, enforcing a shift to EVs. Despite EVs producing around 50 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than ICE vehicles, increasing EV adoption has been challenging. Many drivers are reluctant to switch as they believe EVs cannot preform as well as ICE vehicles, or have concerns over the inconvenience of charging.

Micromotors are helping to combat these apprehensions, as they’re being used in applications that can make EV charging quicker and simpler. For example, micromotors can be incorporated into an EV charging port to allow electronic opening of the flap, providing easy access for the driver. This design feature also allows the port to be secured at the touch of a button, thus preventing physical damage and tampering of the internal components.

In the confined spaces of a charging port, a bespoke drive system is often the best option to achieve the maximum performance in the given space envelope. Standardised parts are designed to operate in a variety of applications, and therefore only partially suit most products. EMS offers a bespoke manufacturing service that can deliver custom mechanisms with only the necessary features built in, creating a compact structure that is tailored to the unique requirements of the project.  

Shifting gear

Micromotors also play a vital role in EV gear shifts. ICEs require multi-speed transmissions, as they can only operate within a narrow revolutions per minute (RPM) window at each gear before stalling. On the other hand, the electric motors in EVs have a much larger operating window, so a single speed transmission can work for both high and low acceleration.

While EVs don’t need a multi gear system, that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from it. A single-speed transmission will work for a wide range of acceleration, but there is a degree of trade off that can impact torque and efficiency. For heavy vehicles such as buses and trucks especially, a multi-speed transmission can improve the EV’s efficiency and performance, helping it to travel up hills and accelerate to highway speeds.

However, multi-speed transmissions are larger than single-speed, which can be problematic in commercial vehicles that require maximised space to carry goods or passengers. Fortunately, automotive engineers can make the transmission system more compact by using small and power-dense micromotors in the integrated actuation system.

Every gram counts

While there are fewer travelling commercial aircraft than road vehicles at any given time, planes have a higher fuel consumption rate and should also be prioritised in the transport decarbonisation strategy. For example, a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet can burn around four litres of fuel every second.

Shedding weight will help bring down the high fuel consumption of planes. For instance, when United Airlines switched its in-flight magazine to lighter paper, it saved over 170,000 gallons of fuel a year.

A crucial area where airlines can reduce plane weight and improve fuel economy is in motorised systems. Motors are found in a range of cabin equipment to add comfort and a touch of luxury, such as in reclining seats, motorised television screens and electric window blinds.

They’re also found on board in safety-critical applications, playing a key role in locking cabin door mechanisms, emergency exits and the pilot’s seat, which must remain in a fixed position during take off and landing. Motors are also used to adjust the valves that regulate the plane’s air-conditioning system.

With a number of motorised systems on board, aerospace engineers can shave grams off aircraft by switching to more compact alternatives, such as those made by FAULHABER, of which EMS is the sole UK supplier. FAULHABER motors are renowned for their high power density, delivering exceptional performance in a lightweight package.

In combination with high performance motor technology, EMS also works with advanced materials such as titanium, which is known for its incredibly low weight and high strength, in their customised mechatronic solutions, further improving the complete system performance.

The transport sector can capitalise on advancements in motor technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. High performance micromotors can help accelerate EV adoption and improve the fuel economy of aircraft, assisting the transition to greener travel.

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