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German consortium envisions fully circular electric motors

Researchers at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute and industry partners are looking to optimise the repair, remanufacture and reuse of electric motors and boost ‘greener’ e-mobility.

The institute is a member of the REASSERT project established in response to the growing number of electric motors hitting the market. ‘The electrification of the powertrain is continuously progressing,’ it notes. This impacts the availability of automotive metals like cobalt and copper as well as rare earths.

‘Innovative value retention strategies offer significant potential for emission reduction in terms of sustainability,’ says scientist Julian Große Erdmann, who laments a current lack of sustainable end-of-life strategies for electric motors.

Used electric motors are typically shredded, sorted into fractions and melted down, meaning individual components cannot be reused. The automotive sector is therefore promoting reuse, repair and remanufacturing over material recycling.

Industry partners of the REASSERT project include:

  • Schaeffler
  • Fraunhofer Institute
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
  • BRIGHT Testing
  • iFAKT
  • Riebesam

Schaeffler is leading the initiative, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. The consortium defines reuse as reusing the entire engine for secondary use and repair as the replacement of defective components and assemblies. In ‘remanufacturing,’ all components are disassembled, cleaned, reconditioned, and reassembled.

‘With improved strategies, fewer raw materials like rare earths, copper, and others are needed, perhaps only for spare parts,’ observes Große Erdmann. He says the R&D project will cover inbound inspection for classification, disassembly, demagnetisation, cleaning, component diagnosis, remanufacturing, reassembly and end-of-line testing.

‘As an example, a motor housing with minor wear might be classified for reuse and, if necessary, reconditioned using machining processes to ensure functionality.’

Meanwhile, a rotor with permanent magnets is difficult to disassemble into its components, even in a manual process, due to the coating and bonding of the magnets. Here, the goal is to establish non-destructive methods.

An AI tool will be developed as part of the project to help select the best value retention strategy for a given application.

Know-how gained through is meant to benefit the design of new electric motors. Ultimately, the goal is to create a circular prototype motor that can be easily disassembled.

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