February 6, 2013

A modest looking black box from AC Kinetics, Inc. is a good example of the cutting edge green technology to be showcased at the Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. on February 25. Inside that box is new software called ACKS, which could lead to the next generation of energy efficient electric motors. Even without taking electric vehicles into consideration we’re talking about a gigantic chunk of U.S. and global energy consumption.
How gigantic? The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been pushing hard for energy efficiency improvements since at least 1993, when it estimated that the U.S. industrial sector was using more than 40 million electric motors which consumed almost 70 percent of all electricity used in that sector.

Billions Saved with Green Technology

Back in 1993, DOE challenged green tech innovators to come up with electric motor energy efficiency solutions that would achieve an annual savings of 5 billion kilowatt hours by 2000. Translated into greenbacks, that would mean about $250 million in cost savings and a 1.2 million metric ton reduction in carbon emissions.

The agency also hoped for broader applications that could result in an annual savings of 100 billion kWh by 2010.

Fast-forward to 2013, and according to AC Kinetics President Dr. Neil Singer the company’s new software results in a savings of at least 10 percent on up to the 40 percent range.

Going by Dr. Singer’s figures, electric motors consume about 45 percent of all electricity globally, about two-thirds of which goes to the industrial sector. The annual “global spend” on that is about $570 billion, so even a ten percent efficiency improvement would translate into a significant reduction in carbon pollution worldwide.

In its press materials, the company anticipates that globally the new software will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 26 million tons (that’s U.S. tons) and reduce electricity consumption by 104 billion kwH.

Software for More Energy Efficient Motors.

AC Kinetics’s new software is based on nonlinear optimization theory, which translates into hardware as the production of high performance while reducing waste energy, which would otherwise be released as heat.

In an interesting twist, the high tech software is aimed at alternating current induction motors, the basic technology for which dates back to the early 19th century (induction motors are based on rotating magnetic fields).
AC Kinetics solves one key problem that became apparent for electric motors as the energy efficiency issue was being tackled in the 1990′s. The expense of making further improvements at the hardware end appeared to be prohibitive, at least in terms of direct economic returns.

As a software solution, ACKS runs right around that obstacle. It is designed to be compatible with existing motors across all sectors including consumer and transportation as well as industrial. Yes, that means electric vehicles, too.

Basically, ACKS automatically controls and adjusts the motor in real time so it generates torque (torque refers to force acting on an object, causing it to rotate) with the greatest possible efficiency, while smoothing over unpredictable changes in load and other disturbances.

That’s in contrast to current methods for “tuning” motors more or less by hand, which aside from being a relatively cumbersome procedure involves additional equipment and instrumentation.

According to the company, aside from efficiency improvements leading to lower costs and reduced carbon emissions, ACKS keeps the motor running cooler, which can help extend the life of the equipment and reduce maintenance costs.

Tina Casey