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New electric motor attracts big-name investors

Question: What do Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr have in common?

Both are investing in Turntide Technologies, a Silicon Valley start-up that is developing an energy-efficient electric motor.  

Turntide Technologies says it has completed an US$80m (A$105m) funding round that was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the clean-tech fund started by Gates. Downey’s Footprint Coalition Ventures is also on board, as are the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, Keyframe Capital, Fifth Wall and Captain Planet LP.

The Silicon Valley company says the new round of funding brings Turntide’s total venture capital to US$180m (A$236m).

Turntide Technologies was set up with the idea of bringing analogue electric motors up to par with the latest software-driven technology to boost energy efficiency.

The patented system is built around the switched reluctance motor, or SRM. It works on a different principle to the AC induction approach, which accounts for most electric motors in operation today. The SRM has only one moving part: a solid steel rotor that turns in a switchable magnetic field.

According to Turntide, SRMs are mostly used in harsh environments where accuracy is not a luxury, such as nuclear power plants or mining operations. Until recently, SRMs are broadly considered as being difficult for precise control and less suitable for commercial use.

Turntide says its cloud-based software platform makes SRMs more controllable and allows them to run at much greater efficiency than legacy motors.

“Turntide’s Smart Motor System addresses a huge market with innovation that not only is higher efficiency, but also lower cost,” says Carmichael Roberts, a member of Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

“The applications for this type of solution are incredibly broad and impactful.”

The Smart Motor System is said to be able to detect if a building is getting too hot or too cold, and slow the speed of the motor to lower the output of conditioned air, thereby eliminating excess energy waste and cost.

The motor, which is a “drop-in” solution, also monitors for degradation, temperature, and speed. Turntide’s technology further integrates software that allows for Internet of Things control system capabilities and data collection.

The company says that HVAC systems retrofitted with the Smart Motor System have reduced motor energy consumption by 64 per cent on average. Companies that have incorporated the technology into their building systems include Amazon, BMW, Five Guys, Sprouts and JLL.

In addition to buildings, Turntide has partnered with VES-Artex to create a control system for lighting, ventilation and cooling in dairy barns.

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