South Africa | Motors use up to half the world's electricity - Bill Gates and Robert Downey Jr want to change that

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, whose wealth is estimated at $86bn, is leading the Forbes Rich List for the fourth straight year. (Pic: Emmanuel Dunand, AFP)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, whose wealth is estimated at $86bn, is leading the Forbes Rich List for the fourth straight year. (Pic: Emmanuel Dunand, AFP)

As much as half of the world’s electricity is consumed by motors. They power everything from fans to electric cars and pumps to industrial machinery. Making them more efficient could go a long way in reducing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

That’s the promise of California-based startup Turntide Technologies Inc., which has commercialised a new type of electric motor. The company said on Wednesday it has raised $80 million from investors including funds led by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr., and co-creator of the iPhone Tony Fadell. 

Electric motors convert electricity into motion by using electromagnets to generate magnetic fields that turn a rotor around a shaft. That simple turning motion, depending on the size of the motor, can blow fallen leaves or bend sheets of metal.

But in conventional motors, much of the magnetic field is wasted and doesn’t contribute to turning the rotor. Turntide has found a way to try and maximize that conversion by turning the magnets inside the motor on and off as often as 20,000 times a second. When the process works correctly, the motor can produce the same amount of work with up to 30% less electricity. 

The design of the motor dates back to 1838, said Turntide Chief Executive Officer Ryan Morris. But the fine control needed to run it efficiently had to wait until computer chips got cheap enough to run the programs.

That’s what Downey likes about the technology, beyond its ability to cut emissions. “They figured out how to use a 19th century technology and use software to make it do what it always had the potential to do,” he said in an interview.

Morris describes the product as “software wrapped in metal.” That’s why the company is able to outsource the manufacturing to India, China and Taiwan, but still control the intellectual property needed to run the motor efficiently.

Turntide is currently focused on a niche market. It replaces the old electric motors in ventilation systems in large buildings. The cost savings from reduced electricity use means it can promise a return on investment in as little as three years. By the end of 2020, Turntide had replaced 5,000 such motors and aims to do 50,000 this year.

Next, Turntide is exploring the application of its motors in pumps and compressors. Ultimately, the company’s biggest market is likely to be electric cars, though achieving the performance that electric motors in cars demand will take a few years of development.

Football news:

Tuchel about 0:1 with Porto: Maybe not the best game to watch. Chelsea deserved to win after 180 minutes
Neymar on reaching the 1/2 Champions League: We knocked out the winner of the tournament. Now PSG should always strive to reach the semi-finals
Porto fouled Pulisic 11 times. Over the past 5 seasons, the Champions League has not broken the rules on anyone more often
PSG will play the winner of the Man City - Borussia pair in the 1/2 final of the Champions League, Chelsea - with Real Madrid or Liverpool
Chelsea reached the semi-finals for the 8th time in the Champions League era. This is a record for Premier League clubs
Chelsea will play in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2014
Pep Guardiola: If we don't win the Champions League, we will be called a loser. If we win , they will say: Wow, Pep is very good!