What were your major accomplishments at 17? Getting accepted into your dream college? Securing your first job? In Robert Sansone’s case, he could be on the verge of revolutionising a new way to power electric vehicles (EV). The 17-year-old from Fort Pierce, Florida, recently claimed the George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award at the 2022 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair for his novel synchronous reluctance motor design.
Sansone has always been a tinkerer. Despite his youth, the prolific inventor already has animatronic hands, high-speed running boots, and high-powered go-karts to his name. When Sansone stumbled upon a video illustrating the rare metals required to produce modern EV motors, he set out to find a more environmentally- and financially-friendly approach.
As opposed to the permanent magnet motors commonly used today, Sansone turned to a synchronous reluctance motor design, which is often found in fans and pumps. However, these motors don’t generate enough torque to power an electric vehicle. At least, not yet.
Permanent magnet motors leverage the attraction between a spinning electromagnetic field and magnets attached to a rotor to drive the motor. A synchronous reluctance motor does away with the magnets. The design typically features a steel rotor with several slots cut into the disc. As the rotor rotates, the difference in magnetism, or saliency ratio, between the steel and air-filled gaps helps produce torque.
Sansone’s novel synchronous reluctance motor takes a different approach, though. Instead of cutting slots into the rotor, Sansone introduces another magnetic field into the fold. The young inventor doesn’t disclose the specifics out of concerns for potential patent protection, but it seems like his theory works in practice.
Constructed from 3-D printed plastic, copper wires, and a steel rotor, Sansone’s prototype increased torque by 39 percent and efficiency by 31 percent at 300 rpm. Efficiency grew to 37 percent at 750 rpm, but the prototype’s 3D-printed plastic melted at higher revolution rates. Sansone’s findings secured him the 2022 George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award, yet he isn’t resting on his laurels.
For the Florida native's next prototype, he plans to utilise 3-D modelling and stouter materials. If Sansone achieves higher rpm and performance figures with his upcoming design, he will consider initiating the patent process and approaching automotive companies.
“Rare-earth materials in existing electric motors are a major factor undermining the sustainability of electric vehicles,” noted Sansone. “Seeing the day when EVs are fully sustainable due to the help of my novel motor design would be a dream come true.”
While the materials required to build synchronous reluctance motors are more cost-effective, the design complexity and manufacturing costs still pose a barrier to widespread use in electric vehicles. Still, with advances in additive technologies like 3D printing, Sansone’s design could shape the industry in the future.