Making EV Motors, And Breaking Up With Rare Earth Elements

Rare earth elements are used to produce magnets with very high strength that also strongly resist demagnetization, their performance is key to modern motors such as those in electric vehicles (EVs). The stronger the magnets, the lighter and more efficient a motor can be. So what exactly does it take to break up with rare earths?

Rare earth elements (REEs) are actually abundant in the Earth’s crust, technically speaking. The problem is they are found in very low concentrations, and inconveniently mixed with other elements when found. Huge amounts of ore are required to extract useful quantities, which requires substantial industrial processing. The processes involved are ecologically harmful and result in large amounts of toxic waste.

Moving away from rare earth magnets in EV motors would bring a lot of benefits, but poses challenges. There are two basic approaches: optimize a motor for non-rare-earth magnets (such as iron nitrides), or do away with permanent magnets entirely in favor of electromagnets (pictured above). There are significant engineering challenges to both approaches, and it’s difficult to say which will be best in the end. But research and prototypes are making it increasingly clear that effective REE-free motors are perfectly feasible. Breaking up with REEs and their toxic heritage would be much easier when their main benefit — technological performance — gets taken off the table as a unique advantage.

A white male in a green shirt sitting next to a tall rectangular robot made of green and black components with an aluminum frame. In front of him are a variety of components from several windshield wiper motor assemblies. Casings, gearboxes, and the like are strewn across the wooden table.

A Wiper Motor 101

Need a powerful electric motor on the cheap? [Daniel Simu] and his friend [Werner] show us the ins and outs of using windshield wiper motors.

Through many examples and disassembled components, the duo walk us through some of the potential uses of wiper motors to power a project. Some of the nuggets we get are the linear relationship of torque to current (10-15A max) and speed to voltage (12-15V DC) on these units, and some of the ways the wiring in these motors is a little different than a simple two wire DC motor.

They also discuss some of their favorite ways to control the motors ranging from a light switch to an Arduino. They even mention how to turn one into a big servo thanks to a project on and a few modifications of their own. [Simu] also discusses some of the drawbacks of wiper motors, the most evident being that these motors use nylon gears which are prone to stripping or failing in other ways when subjected to high torque conditions for too long.

If you recognize [Simu], it may be from his robotic acrobat built with wiper motors. Want to see some more wiper motor hacks? How about a 3D scanner or making sure your wipers always keep the beat?

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A brass-and-wood replica of Faraday's motor

Replicating Faraday’s 200-Year-Old Electric Motor

Although new electric motor types are still being invented, the basic principle of an electric motor has changed little in the past century-and-a-half: a stator and a rotor built of magnetic materials plus a bunch of strategically-placed loops of wire. But getting even those basic ingredients right took a lot of experimentation by some of the greatest names in physics. Michael Faraday was one of them, and in the process became the first person to turn electricity into motion. [Markus Bindhammer] has recreated Faraday’s experiment in proper 19th century style.

Back in 1821, the very nature of electricity and its relation to magnetism were active areas of research. Tasked with writing an article about the new science of eletromagnetics, Faraday decided to test out the interaction between a current-carrying wire and a permanent magnet, in a setup very similar to [Markus]’s design. A brass wire is hanging freely from a horizontal rod and makes contact with a conductive liquid, inside of which a magnet is standing vertically. As an electric current is passed through the wire, it begins to rotate around the magnet, as if to stir the liquid.

[Markus]’s video, embedded after the break, shows the entire construction process. Starting from rods and sheet metal, [Markus] uses mostly hand tools to create all basic parts that implement the motor, including a neat knife switch. Where Faraday used mercury as the conductive liquid, [Markus] uses salt water – cheaper and less toxic, although it does eventually eat up the brass wire through electrolysis.

While not particularly useful in itself, Faraday’s motor proved for the first time that electric energy could be converted into motion through magnetism, leading to a whole class of ultra-simple motors called homopolar motors. It would be a while before experiments by the likes of Tesla and Ferraris led to modern AC motors. If you don’t like your motors magnetic, you can use electrostatics instead.

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Go-Kart Reverse Without The Pain

Go-karts are a huge amount of fun, but often lack the most basic of mechanical conveniences such as a reverse gear. You can’t start a small four-stroke engine in reverse, so their simple chain drive transmissions lack the extra cogs to make it happen. Enter [HowToLou], who has given his go-kart a reversing option by the addition of an electric motor.

It’s an extremely simple arrangement, the motor is a geared 12 V item which drives a V-belt to the axle. The motor is mounted on a pivot with a lever, such that normally the belt isn’t engaged, thus reverse can be selected by pulling the lever. A simple button switch applies power to the motor, meaning that the machine can travel sedately backwards on electric power.

We’re not entirely convinced by the integrity of some of his fixings and it would be interesting to see how much the V-belt wears under the influence of the pulley when not engaged, but as an alternative to a full gearbox we can see the point. But then again as regular readers may know, we’re more used to full electric traction.

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Heavy-Duty Starter Motor Powers An Awesome Drift Trike

Starter motors aren’t typically a great choice for motorized projects, as they’re designed to give engines a big strong kick for a few seconds. Driving them continuously can often quickly overheat them and burn them out. However, [Austin Blake] demonstrates that by choosing parts carefully, you can indeed have some fun with a starter motor-powered ride.

[Austin] decided to equip his drift trike with a 42MT-equivalent starter motor typically used in heavy construction machinery. The motor was first stripped of its solenoid mechanism, which is used to disengage the starter from an engine after it has started. The housing was then machined down to make the motor smaller, and a mount designed to hold the starter on the drift trike’s frame.

A 36V battery pack was whipped up using some cells [Austin] had lying around, and fitted with a BMS for safe charging. The 12V starter can draw up to 1650 amps when cranking an engine, though the battery pack can only safely deliver 120 amps continuously. A Kelly controller for brushed DC motors was used, set up with a current limit to protect the battery from excessive current draw.

The hefty motor weighs around 50 pounds, and is by no way the lightest or most efficient drive solution out there. However, [Austin] reports that it has held up just fine in 20 minutes of near-continuous testing, despite being overvolted well beyond its design specification. The fact it’s operating at a tenth of its rated current may also have something to do with its longevity. It also bears noting that many YouTube EVs die shortly after they’re posted. Your mileage may vary.

For a more modern solution, you might consider converting an alternator into a brushless electric motor. Video after the break.

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This DIY Dynamometer Shows Just What A Motor Can Do

Back in high school, all the serious gearheads used to brag about two things: their drag strip tickets, and their dynamometer reports. The former showed how fast their muscle car could cover a quarter-mile, while the latter was documentation on how much power their carefully crafted machine could deliver. What can I say; gas was cheap and we didn’t have the Internet to distract us.

Bragging rights are not exactly what [Jeremy Fielding] has in mind for his DIY dynamometer, nor is getting the particulars on a big Detroit V8 engine. Rather, he wants to characterize small- to medium-sized electric motors, with an eye toward repurposing them for different projects. To do this, he built a simple jig to measure the two parameters needed to calculate the power output of a motor: speed and torque. A magnetic tachometer does the job of measuring the motor’s speed, but torque proved a bit more challenging. The motor under test is coupled to a separate electric braking motor, which spins free when it’s not powered. A lever arm of known length connects to the braking motor on one end while bearing on a digital scale on the other. With the motor under test spun up, the braking motor is gradually powered, which rotates its housing and produces a force on the scale through the lever arm. A little math is all it takes for the mystery motor to reveal its secrets.

[Jeremy]’s videos are always instructional, and the joy he obviously feels at discovery is infectious, so we’re surprised to see that we haven’t featured any of his stuff before. We’ve seen our share of dynos before, though, from the tiny to the computerized to the kind that sometimes blows up.

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Eight Motors Speed This Boat Along

Messing about in boats has always held a curious appeal for the hardware hacker. Perhaps that’s because it remains an approachable way to make something that moves under its own power with a bit of speed, and barring calamities, the worst that can happen to the unwary boater is a soaking. [NASAT Channel] is a Vietnamese hacker who is a serial producer of small motorised boats, and one of his latest is a particularly impressive example.

The boat itself is a relatively conventional expanded polystyrene hull covered with fiberglass, but the motive power is something a little special. He’s taken eight of the ubiquitous 775 DC brushed motors and used them in a star configuration with beveled gears, which in turn drives a flexible shaft which goes straight to a propeller under the craft. Each motor shares a water cooling pipe serviced by a small pump, and the drive comes from a pair of cheap PWM motor controllers. We see him zipping up and down a stretch of river next to some moored boats, and if we’re honest, we wouldn’t mind a go ourselves.

We’re not entirely convinced such a rough-and-ready eight-way gearbox will be reliable for long-term use, and we’d be interested to know just how equally so many motors are actually sharing the load. But we like it for its sheer audacity, and we think you will too. Take a look at the video below the break, and if you’re inspired then grab a hammock, some friends, and have a go.

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