The decarbonization of the economy is the single biggest public health and business challenge of our time.
The problem is, the health of the economy and the health of our planet have historically been framed in opposition to each other: carbon-emitting power systems are essential to a thriving world economy and any policy that drastically restricts carbon emissions would cripple the world economy.
A perfect example of this dilemma is seen in transportation and building operations.
The transportation industry accounts for 23% of carbon emissions worldwide. Building operations — all of the systems that make buildings function, like heating and cooling systems and plumbing — account for a staggering 28% of the world’s CO2 emissions. If buildings were a country, they would vie with China over how much carbon they emit. Combine the two industries and you’ve got half the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But we can’t live without buildings or transportation.
That’s why Ryan Morris, CEO of Turntide wants to bridge the divide between building a robust economy and saving our planet. And he is doing that by reinventing the motor.
“By 2040, if every motor [in the built environment] is upgraded to an optimal motor system, that’ll be the equivalent of adding seven Amazon rainforests and 2.3 gigatons of carbon sequestration per year,” Morris tells Freethink.
And Turntide’s successful use of their intelligent electric motors at a BMW plant in South Carolina is a window into a future where the environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive.
“The thing that’s different today versus 10 years ago is that these new clean technologies actually pay for themselves. Capitalism is now a tailwind for the future of sustainability,” Morris says.
“That did not used to be the case.”
Turning over the motor
The motor was invented 1832 and it has revolutionized societies over the past two centuries, fundamentally changing how humans live and move. But motors can be terribly inefficient. Fixing those efficiencies could usher in a new revolution — one that addresses the looming threat of climate change.
The smart motor’s software allows it to allocate electrical current more precisely. Rather than simply constantly sending electric current, as with common electric motors, Turntide’s software turns the electric current on and off at a rate of 20,000 times a second, a feat only possible with software automation
In doing so, Turntide’s software only delivers electrical energy when needed, reducing wasted energy and without any effect on performance.
BMW implemented Turntide’s motors at its Spartanburg, South Carolina, manufacturing plant, the company’s largest, and the results were staggering.
“We saw energy savings of [about] 80 percent,” says Kasper Sage, a managing partner of BMW i Ventures,the company’s venture capital and innovation arm which is among Turntide’s investors
Better yet, BMW’s production rate never slowed down.
Implementing this level of energy-saving at scale would be one of the most profound developments to date in the push to decarbonize the world economy. The vast majority of buildings in the U.S. don’t use automation to manage their operations and energy use.
Upgrading these systems is a necessity for the world to achieve 100% clean energy, in accordance with the Paris climate agreement. The world simply can’t build enough renewables to accommodate the current demand for energy; we have to use less.
But the possibilities don’t end with buildings. Intelligent motor systems will soon apply to any machine that moves.
In order to fully decarbonize, countries must replace all the internal combustion engines (which use fossil fuels) in their transportation systems with electric-powered engines.
Transportation presents a decarbonization opportunity nearly as large as buildings.
We already see this happening with the automobile industry, which is rapidly moving toward a future in which every car on the road is an electric vehicle.
Cars and light trucks, however, produce less than half the world’s emissions from vehicles. Virtually every transportation modality in the world — from buses, to construction and industrial vehicles to trains, planes, and even marine vessels — will be powered by electric motors in the future, Morris says, expanding the use for smart motors and all the energy-saving, carbon-reducing benefits they offer.
“We’re sitting at the heart of some of the most difficult applications to electrify in commercial and industrial vehicles,” Morris says. “Everything from the battery pack to the high power conversion to the unique electric motors. We want to make it so people can take their currently fossil fuel driven transport applications and make them electric twice as fast as they could otherwise.”
The opportunity becomes even more vast when you think about it in terms of a city’s or state’s electrical grid. For decades, scientists have envisioned a future world filled with “smart cities,” where every public utility is plugged into the same network, allowing municipalities to remotely manage and allocate resources among them. Electric motors are, of course, an integral part of a city’s electric grid.
Unlike the more expensive carbon reduction strategies, businesses and governments will likely be eager to embrace Turntide’s smart motors. The reduced energy waste equates to significant savings for firms of all kinds, and more than pays for itself in the long-term, Sage of BMW i Ventures says.
“Each of those devices needs to be intelligent if you’re going to have a truly smart city,” Morris says. “It’s going to come from all the individual pieces being intelligent from the ground up.”