Start-up Develops Electric Motor Without Rare Earths and Copper

by | 20. Nov 2023 - 12:13 | Technologies

British company AEM raises 29 million dollars in investment—aluminum to replace critical raw materials. Electric motors with rare earth magnets have so far been superior due to their high efficiency and small footprint.

The British start-up company Advanced Electric Machines (AEM) has received $29 million in investment to develop and produce an electric motor designed to work without rare earths and copper and be fully recyclable. The investment is also intended to expand the production of AEM electric motors already on the market, which also contain no rare earths and are intended for commercial vehicles. The new model will be designed for passenger cars, with AEM working with, among others, the luxury brand Bentley, owned by Volkswagen.

Over 80 percent of electric motors contain permanent magnets made from rare earths such as neodymium, which enable strong magnetic performance with a low mass. The manufacture of these components and the production of the underlying raw materials is heavily concentrated in China; many car manufacturers are, therefore, looking for alternatives. Electric motors also contain copper coils in the rotor to generate the magnetic field. Copper production is also highly concentrated, with Chile, Peru, and China accounting for almost half of the global output, according to the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (PDF). According to Prof. James Widmer, CEO and co-founder of AEM, ten kilograms of copper are used in electric motors with rare earth magnets. In contrast, alternatives without these critical minerals could use twice as much. In the British company’s new model, the standard copper coils are to be replaced by compressed aluminum windings. The aim is to improve heat transfer capability and power density while taking up less space. Electric motors with rare earth magnets have scored particularly well in the last two areas.

China also accounts for most of the global aluminum production, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey (PDF). In addition to Canada and India, Russia and the Middle East also have shares. Aluminum was recently added to the EU list of strategic raw materials.

Photo: iStock/AlessandroPhoto

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