NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Clemson University experts are leading a $6.7-million research project that could dramatically reduce energy consumption worldwide by developing industrial motors that run more efficiently.
The research that Clemson is doing with TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while helping industry reduce costs and increase profits. The U.S. Department of Energy is funding the three-year project.
Clemson experts saw the grant as validation that their efforts to build public-private collaborations are paying off. The goal of their latest research project is to develop technology that could immediately be put to use in a variety of industries worldwide.
The research will be based at the Clemson University Restoration Institute, an innovation campus in North Charleston that was set up to encourage public-private crossover. The campus’ Duke Energy eGRID will play a central role in the research.
Curtiss Fox, the principal investigator on the grant, said the project was exciting for the team that Clemson has built at the campus.
“It’s going to put us in a good position for not just this research project, but for other research projects,” he said. “It’s a cutting-edge project. It involves a lot of things that are the next wave in energy conversion systems.”
The proposal calls for TECO-Westinghouse to manufacture a prototype that will be tested at full power on a dynamometer at the Duke Energy eGRID.
Once the technology is ready, TECO-Westinghouse will use its international reach to market the motors, highlighting their environmental and efficiency benefits, according to the proposal.
Dean Sarandria, business unit general manager for custom motors at TECO-Westinghouse, said the project helps strengthen the already-solid ties between the Round Rock, Texas, company and Clemson.
“We are excited to collaborate with Clemson University and Rensselaer Polytechnic on this game-changing research,” he said. “This work will help us overcome technical challenges and deliver the benefits directly to our customers.
“We are already seeing a sizeable market for high-speed, high-horsepower applications in the compressor industry, both onshore and offshore. The market will continue to grow as hydrocarbons found in shale gas plays are transported, refined and exported around the globe.”
Nikolas Rigas, executive director of the Restoration Institute, said what excited him most about the project is that it will be aimed at taking new technology to market.
“We’re meeting our mission to develop public-private partnerships to bring new technologies into the market and to educate the workforce of the future,” he said. “This research is perfectly in line with our mission statement for the facilities.”
Fox, a research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the motors that are targeted in the grant account for 68 percent of energy consumed in U.S. industrial manufacturing. The motors are used in wide range of applications including fans, pumps, compressors, grinding mills, metal rolling, mine hoists and refineries.
“Any sort of efficiency increase in those systems can dramatically reduce the energy consumption of those processes,” Fox said. “You’re making a more efficient process, which means you have to burn less coal or spill less water over dams or burn less natural gas. It ultimately will reduce energy consumption.
“Reducing those types of emissions are important to the environment. On the industrial side, reducing the operational costs increases your profit.”
In their quest to make motors more efficient, researchers will explore several technologies, including wide bandgap devices, advanced magnetic materials, improved insulation materials, aggressive cooling techniques, high-speed bearing designs and improved conductors or superconducting materials.
The $6.7-million grant is the latest investment the Energy Department has made at the Clemson University Restoration Institute. The Energy Department provided $45 million to establish a wind-turbine drivetrain testing and research facility and $2.4 million to develop the Duke Energy eGRID. These two projects form the cornerstone of the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center and are the largest such facilities in the world. With other public and private grants, the facilities now represent $110 million in investment.
Larry Dooley, interim vice president for research at Clemson, said the continued funding shows that Clemson faculty members are doing high-quality research into new ways of saving and producing energy.
“The size of the awards and our collaborations with industry speak for themselves,” he said. “Clemson has emerged as a leader in sustainable energy solutions.”
Paulo Guedes-Pinto, the director of the Design Center and R&D at TECO-Westinghouse, said he looks forward to the project.
“We’re bringing together some of the top researchers in higher education and industry to work for the greater good of all,” he said. “The result will be a fully integrated, high-speed megawatt class motor and high-frequency variable speed drive system. In short, it’s the next generation of electric machines.”
“This is a wonderful example of how we integrate our innovation and main campuses,” said Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science. “It epitomizes the college theme ‘innovation through translation.’”
Clemson researchers involved in the project include Fox, Keith Corzine, Thomas Salem, Jesse Leonard and Ramtin Hadidi. Leila Parsa will be collaborating for Rensselaer Polytechnic. Team members from TECO-Westinghouse include Sarandria, Haran Karmaker, James Feng, Edward Chen and Enrique Ledezma.
This story was written by Paul Alongi, College of Engineering and Science, Clemson University.