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Climate Change

Daikin leads efforts to save electricity in factories and offices

Companies test software and magnets for game-changing ways to improve motors

Employees work on the automobile assembly line at a factory of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., owned by Germany-based Daimler, in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo. Companies are seeking ways to reduce factory energy use.   © Reuters

TOKYO/OSAKA -- As global interest grows in greener technologies, Daikin Industries and Toyota Motor are racing rivals at home and abroad to develop more energy-efficient motors.

Motors are the backbone of industry, used in everything from factories and office equipment to trains and home appliances. About half of all electricity consumed worldwide is said to be used by motors.

Adjusting the voltage and frequency of electricity fed into motors to improve their efficiency is already a widespread tactic in Japan. But Daikin is now working on software to adjust such input in increments of tens of microseconds. The goal is to minimize the amount of energy that dissipates as heat instead of driving motor rotation.

By carefully regulating the motor's inverter, "we can reduce how much energy is lost at the core, a component that strengthens the motor's magnetic force," a Daikin representative said.

Toyota Motor is testing out a proprietary type of magnet in its motors that uses cerium and lanthanum in addition to neodymium, a rare-earth element typically found in high-grade magnets. The automaker took special care to ensure that the various magnets do not interfere with each other.

The new design is expected to reduce energy loss by 40% and electricity consumption by 4%. Toyota hopes to apply the technology to air conditioning units, electric cars and more.

Daikin Industries uses equipment like this to test the performance of motors. (Photo courtesy of Daikin Industries)

Cutting motors' power consumption by just a few percent could reduce Japan's total electricity needs by the equivalent of multiple nuclear reactors. It could also significantly decrease carbon dioxide emissions.

U.S.-based startup Turntide Technologies has been selling a computer-controlled motor since 2019. It uses software similar to Daikin's to monitor and regulate the amount of electricity being fed into the motor and is said to reduce clients' energy consumption by an average of 64%.

"Similar technology has existed for a while, but it hasn't been very popular in the U.S., where electricity is cheap," said Masato Koyama, a Kanazawa Institute of Technology professor who is an expert in energy-saving motor technology.

"The spread of such technologies could make a significant impact," he said.

Turntide previously focused mainly on motors for air conditioning at retailers and restaurants. But it announced in June that it would start producing products for the transportation sector as well. It acquired a British maker of electric-vehicle batteries and plans to sell batteries and motors to automakers and logistics providers including Aston Martin.

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