Startup says its electric motor can save power in conveyors

Infinitum raises $185 million, partners with Rockwell Automation to bring product to warehouses

By: Ben Ames

A Texas startup firm that landed $185 million in venture capital last month says its newfangled electric motor could help warehouses cut their electric bills and carbon footprints by running their conveyors far more efficiently.

According to Austin-based Infinitum, the majority of electric motors today waste energy because they operate at a single speed, either fully on or fully off. But the firm’s new variable speed motor reduces energy and emissions. The difference can add up quickly, because motors are the single largest end-user of energy, consuming 53% of electricity globally, the firm said, citing the International Energy Agency (IEA). And in the U.S. industrial sector, motors alone consume nearly 70% of total electricity used to power numerous core industrial applications, such as compressors, pumps, fans, and processing and material handling equipment.

The company’s answer is the “sustainable air core motor,” featuring a design with a built-in variable frequency drive (VFD) that reduces energy usage by running the motor at lower speeds when possible. The motor is 50% smaller and lighter, uses 66% less copper and no iron in the stator, and consumes 10% less energy1 than traditional motors. That makes it appropriate for applications in commercial heating ventilation and air condition (HVAC), industrial pumps, and conveyance and material handling.

Investors like the idea too, as shown by the company’s $185 million “series E” funding round, led on November 1 by Just Climate with participation from Galvanize Climate Solutions and NGP. Existing investors including Rockwell Automation, Alliance Resource Partners, Riverstone Holdings, Chevron Technology Ventures, Cottonwood Technology Fund, and Ajax Strategies also participated in this round, bringing total funding to-date to $350 million.

Rockwell Automation is also partnering with Infinitum to bring the product to market, announcing in September that the two companies would jointly develop a motor and low-voltage drive solution that is compatible with Rockwell’s industrial automation solutions.

The system works by replacing the motor’s stator, which is an iron core wrapped in copper wire, with etched copper wiring on a printed circuit board, according to Bhavnesh Patel, Infinitum’s chief strategy officer. In addition to improving the efficiency, that approach also delivers better noise, reliability, and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, he said. While the motor itself is a “fairly small item in a broader facility,” a typical Amazon-scale warehouse would have hundreds if not thousands of such units, so the potential savings are significant, Patel said.

In addition to cutting power bills, the motor’s improved reliability will also help warehouse operators to reduce the labor needed to maintain industrial equipment. “Traditionally, running current through copper expands and contracts the wire over time, as you use the conveyor, so it will eventually snap and break. Our design is nine times more reliable, which is important for mission critical facilities like logistics or food handling, where you can’t afford to have downtime.”

Read the full article at DC Velocity.