ICA China Motor Program: 20 Years of Promoting Energy Efficiency

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Environmental awareness is driving global efforts to cut carbon emissions and promote low-carbon development. One significant factor in this push is motor systems, which use a substantial amount energy globally. Improving motor efficiency is, therefore, critical to promoting energy conservation and reducing emissions.

China’s motor stock accounts for 55 percent of total energy consumption and 75 percent of industrial energy consumption. A mere 1 percent increase in motor-system energy efficiency can cut carbon emissions by 30.67 million tonnes annually, spotlighting the urgency of optimizing motor efficiency and promoting sustainable growth.

The International Copper Association (ICA) has been at the forefront of motor efficiency research, promoting copper rotor technology to bolster motor-system efficiency. Copper plays a pivotal role in motor components, such as stator coils, rotors, controllers, power supply equipment, connecting wires and bearings. Integrating copper in rotor production can elevate motor efficiency by 2 – 5 percent and cut energy consumption by 15 – 25 percent, lightening motor weight by 20 percent.

“Improving motor efficiency is a crucial factor in promoting high-quality industrial development, particularly under the dual carbon goals,” according to Deng Xianghui, Deputy Secretary-General of the China Industrial Energy Conservation and Clean Production Association. “If motor system efficiency can be improved by 5 – 8 percentage points, the annual electricity savings [in China] would be equivalent to the output of 2 – 3 Three Gorges Dam power stations, which produces 100 billion kWh annually.”

Initially, there was a limited understanding of energy efficiency in the motor industry, with focus primarily on product quality. ICA was instrumental in bridging this gap, bringing international expertise and providing theoretical and practical support, from academic collaboration to industry engagement.

China’s motor energy-efficiency standards lead to a dramatic increase in production of high-efficiency motors. In 2021, 74.5 percent of China’s small- to medium-sized, three-phase asynchronous motors met or surpassed the tier 3 efficiency levels of the GB18613-2020 standard—a leap from less than 5 percent in 2014. This shift signifies the growing recognition of the value of high-efficiency motors, propelling the industry toward greater energy efficiency and innovation. ICA remains committed to advancing motor-system efficiency, researching renewable energy technologies and fostering sustainable economic progress as part of a holistic strategy to curb carbon emissions and encouraging low-carbon economic development.

A History of Energy-Efficiency Advocacy

The road to achieving these efficiency goals has not always been easy. The China Resources and Environment Branch of the China Standardization Research Institute notes that China began developing its own energy-efficiency standards in the 1980s, focusing initially on commonly used products, such as air conditioners and refrigerators. Only during the 12th Five-Year Plan did a comprehensive and mandatory energy-saving standards system emerge.

China’s initial motor energy efficiency standards lagged behind the international community. While the U.S. and Canada enforced IE2 energy-efficiency standards in 1997, China introduced its first compulsory IE1 level standard in 2007, a lower efficiency standard than the U.S. and Canada’s standards from a decade earlier.

The importance of energy efficiency was not widely recognized within the motor industry, and research on the topic was scarce in China. ICA’s introduction of advanced information, from theoretical knowledge to case studies, marked a turning point. Over the past 30 years, ICA has devoted itself to promoting motor efficiency through collaboration with research departments and the industry value chain. ICA has invested over $6 million in improving motor efficiency through standard development, technological innovation and public awareness. ICA advocates for strategic foresight in the industry, as companies that overlook efficiency improvements risk falling behind when motor efficiency standards upgrade every three – five years.

In 2007, ICA hosted the Global Forum for Efficiency in Motor Systems (EEMODS) in China, the highest-level meeting on motor efficiency in the world, which marked the Association’s significant progress in the region. At this conference, the Yunnan Copper Group publicly announced the launch of China’s first copper rotor production line, signaling a commitment to sustainable development.

Partnering with the Supply Chain for Technological Development

Yunnan Copper Group, one of China’s largest copper smelting and processing enterprises, was the first company in China to join ICA in 2005. The company pioneered copper rotor die-casting technology. Despite initial challenges, such as designing molds for copper’s high melting point, ICA members refined the technology, and the copper rotor significantly improved motor performance by replacing aluminum found in traditional rotors. Yunan Copper partnered with Tsinghua University to advance these technologies, exemplifying the collaborative spirit of the copper industry. The partnership led to innovations such as vacuum die-casting technology for high-quality copper components needed to meet demands from the aviation sector.

Today, Yunnan Copper annual production of copper rotors ranges from 100,000 to 200,000. The commercialization of copper rotor die-casting technology is accelerating, especially in the high-efficiency, small-power appliance field. The Chinese government’s 2023 policy document calling for the development of high-pressure copper-casting technology underscores the relevance of copper die casting in future national energy-efficiency policies.

Looking Ahead at China’s Efficiency Standards

Over the past two decades, the implementation of motor energy-efficiency standards has seen a transformative leap. ICA’s collaborative efforts with industry stakeholders played a crucial role in this transformation. ICA works to enable China’s dual carbon goals, which aim to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. With increasing global focus on sustainability and carbon footprint reduction, the role of efficient motor systems has become even more critical to meeting these goals. China’s motor energy-efficiency standards have progressed rapidly over the past 20 years, reaching parity with international standards and achieving a high market coverage rate for efficient products.

As a result, the need for high-efficiency motors is increasingly recognized and accepted by the commercial sector. Many motor companies proactively seek to upgrade their energy-efficiency standards, as production and research into efficient motors have become a core competitive advantage with customers. The updates and iterations of high-efficiency motor standards have not only injected new vitality into the market, but they have promoted research and development in the industry.

Industry cooperation across the value chain drives the development of motors systems. The ongoing research into material science and engineering contributes to the development of next-generation motor technologies that promise even greater efficiency gains. As the world moves toward a more electrified future with a growing reliance on electric motors in everything from industrial machinery to transport, the importance of motor efficiency will continue to expand. The work of ICA, its members and its partners set the stage for a future where energy-efficient motor systems play a pivotal role in achieving global sustainability goals. Efforts to improve motor efficiency requires the collective effort of industry leaders, policymakers, researchers and consumers. By continuing to innovate and implement efficient technologies, the copper industry contributes to a future with more sustainable energy consumption, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a healthier environment for all.

21 Mayo 2024

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