Written by IEEE | January 18, 2018   |   Updated: April 19, 2019

In order to reduce our environmental impact amid increasing global electrical use, there’s a push to improve the efficiency and precision of our core technologies. Motors are vital to life as we know it – they power a huge number of systems and devices, so they’re an ideal case study of how an existing technology is becoming more green.

First, some history. Direct current (DC) motors were first produced in the 1830s. It didn’t take long for inventors to pine for alternating current (AC) motors; the early work of Galileo Ferraris and Nikola Tesla helped bring that technology to life in the 1880s. But it would be almost 100 years before some of the biggest advancements started taking place.

Enter the global energy crisis of the 1970s, which brought severe petroleum shortages to North America, Europe and Japan. This shock to the energy supply market made it clear that developing energy-saving motors was necessary. Few countries heeded the call as seriously as Japan.

As their semiconductor industry began to boom in the 90s, Japan helped fuel R&D that brought about high-performance, adjustable-speed AC motors. In the years since, these motors have become a staple of modern industry and transportation, and have led to significant progress in inverter technology.

In recent years, they’ve found use on Japanese high-speed trains, elevators and cars. And as the drive to reduce vehicle emissions has grown, AC motors are playing an increasingly central role. There’s even been buzz recently of the aerospace industry moving toward greater use of electrical systems to improve fuel economy and cost. Just as electric and hybrid vehicles have been used in the automotive industry, they may soon become commonplace in the sky.

For future AC drive systems, there are still some hurdles to clear. High-performance control technology is still a work in progress, and so is increasing the reliability of the drive system.

In vehicle applications, loudness, vibration and noise are still being worked on to create a more comfortable experience. Starting torque, slip control, coasting and the smoothness of acceleration and deceleration are also areas that are being improved.

It will be exciting to watch this technology progress in the coming years, especially with such a wide range of applications. Learn more about the next generation of AC motors at IEEE Xplore here.

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