The world uses about half of the electrical power generated for electric motors. For most anyone in the field its known there are great differences in efficiency and power for the money. What doesn’t come to mind much is the weight and dimensions. For transport, weight and dimensions do matter a great deal.

That made the news out of the UK’s University of Oxford quite interesting and offers more insight into one of the UK’s Automotive X-prize competitors, Delta, a better contender than first thought.

McCullochs Hi Output Lo Weight Motor.  Click image for more.

McCullochs Hi Output Lo Weight Motor. Click image for more.

Dr. Malcolm McCulloch of the Electrical Power Group at Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science says, “The (new) motor can achieve high torque for its weight, which ultimately means a smaller and cheaper motor. Torque is the twisting force that accelerates the car, and the peak torque we’re aiming for is 500Nm from 25kg.” That’s a bigger number than on might at first sense, as 500 Newton meters converts to nearly 369 pound feet of torque – this from only little more than 55 pounds.

That a “Wait a minute!” kind of number. 369 pound feet is way up there in the automotive market, in the sports and high performance category. Most cars sold now are about half of that. In a package of 55 pounds is a shock too, such outputs suggest something in the low hundreds of pounds.

This kind of news suggests a bunch of weight and volume can be redirected to electron storage in batteries and the coming ultra and super capacitors. Saving back just 1 or 2 hundred pounds offers a great deal of added range.

Delta Motorsport Artists Concept. Click image for the largest view.

Delta Motorsport Artists Concept. Click image for the largest view.

So it comes as no surprise the motor is expected to be part of Delta Motorsport’s Automotive X-prize entry. The motor is planned for testing by Delta later this year.

McCulloch says, “We’ve optimized the materials and design, so that the motor is lighter and more effective, giving half the volume and twice the torque for the same power output. The motor was developed for the Morgan Lifecar in 2008, and we now have funding to adapt it for high-performance electric vehicles, and we’re also looking at aerospace, renewable and industrial use. Over 50 per cent of the world’s electricity powers electric motors, so it’s extremely important to improve the efficiency of motors. This motor can be adapted to achieve better performance in a whole range of applications.”

Delta’s man Nick Carpenter says, “We believe electric motors are the only way forward for road cars. All road cars will be driven electrically, regardless of how the energy is stored in the vehicle. It is an incredibly exciting time for the automotive market. There hasn’t been a rate of change like this since the first few years, and we think that electric drive is going to be the one common theme. We’re delighted to have been so involved in the design of a viable, cost-effective, high torque density motor.”

I have to agree with Carpenter. One way or another the internal combustion engine is going to be marginalized into the uses that best fit its characteristics. That much is inevitable. It makes no sense for billions of them to be cold started and used inefficiently for the greatest share of their use as a regular form of transporting people and goods.

On the University of Oxford Press release site McCulloch repeats some of what’s said here, but has a video with a look that the lab students working with what is likely a working prototypes. The size and ease of handling these looks quite satisfying from a development point.

The unsaid part is the costs. The hint is that there are lightweight materials involved, but exotic or other terms that might raise the alarm are absent. By intent or design we don’t and can’t know what the anticipated costs might be. But if the designs are as compelling as the numbers above, manufacturing volume would take hold to some extent which can reduce per motor costs, even if exotic materials are needed as they too would be reduced in unit costs with more volume.

The whole thing looks great, and will see competition in the Automotive X-prize contests. From over a hundred entries we’ll be seeing quite a lot of ideas in real time, at working size with some performance details. Personal vehicle transport is a very dynamic field that is likely to have a revolution take place more quickly that we might generally expect today.

There are choices for engineers in designing the new cars. It’s with great relief to see that some are realizing that cutting weights both in the drive and throughout a design pays off in performance and savings. All these lead to more desirable cars.

What puzzles is the tipping point, when the average new car consumer is compelled by reason and emotion to choose electric drive in great numbers. Now, if we can just afford to charge them with grid power after Cap and Trade runs up the price of electricity.

McCulloch is showing that human ingenuity can change things, and they will change if government will stay out of the way and keep its place.


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