Project title: Optimal Control for Maximizing the Effectiveness of Power Electronic Systems (OPT4MAX)
Approved funding: 197 710 €
Applicant: Tampere University (Petros Karamanakos)
Industrial partner: Danfoss Drives/Vacon
Postdoctoral researcher: Mattia Rossi
Electricity prices have reached historical highs during the past spring. Improving energy efficiency is therefore a timely step towards greater climate and economic sustainability. Tampere University and Danfoss are working closely to develop a solution that can help achieve significant energy savings in industrial machinery.
Energy efficiency is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. For cost reasons alone, improving energy efficiency is of great interest to both businesses and private citizens because the sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine are limiting access to energy resources and driving up prices.
The International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 Scenario has set the target of reaching 35 per cent cuts in energy intensity by 2030. In other words, the growing population on the planet should secure the energy it needs with 35 per cent greater efficiency. The changes are driven by accelerating electrification in society, changes in consumer behaviour and improvements in energy efficiency.
Energy efficiency is a particularly critical concern in industries that use big machinery. Almost one-quarter of all electric industrial motors use variable speed drives (VSD), which control the motors by adjusting the frequency and voltage of the power supply. Various kinds of fans and pumps are typical examples of devices that make use of VSDs. VSDs improve energy efficiency as such because they are used to regulate the motor’s energy consumption.
But VSDs themselves have so far not operated at their maximum efficiency. VSDs can account for up to half of all the energy consumed. There is room to improve the energy efficiency as well as production and operating costs. Researchers from Tampere University and Danfoss are now working closely to develop a solution that would reduce power and energy losses in VSDs.
Mattia Rossi, postdoctoral researcher on the project from Tampere University, explains: “Traditionally VSD control methods are not particularly suited to deal with the multiple needs of modern industry applications. The new method we’re developing helps to minimize the power losses and extract every bit of energy available. This means we are getting more power and higher device efficiency.”
The project team’s results confirm that this advanced control method based on model predictive control (MPC) is highly effective. The first tests have produced savings of 1–2 per cent. “Savings of just one per cent are significant when we’re dealing with industrial machinery in kilowatt range,” Rossi continues. Besides, he points out, these are just the first preliminary results. The full power of the new solution will become clear when the project moves on from the current simulation stage to real industrial scale trial runs.
The opportunity to conduct laboratory trials on industry hardware is one of the best sides of industry-academia cooperation, Rossi says: “This research would not be possible without an industrial partner. The collaboration helps to align the research with market requirements. Without a business partner, we would not have such validation part which is necessary to drive our software development.”
The research team will have access to the first trial results during 2022, and the project will be completed in 2023. By then it will become clear just how big a revolution they will be achieving in energy efficiency. If they are successful in optimizing VSD energy consumption, the technology will have extensive application prospects in many industry branches. The solution developed in the project may also have practical application in energy storage and battery technology, for instance.
The project team’s goals are far-reaching: “When we come to wrap up this project we will hopefully have produced not just research but also a finalized software feature that can be further patented and potentially commercialized. We can then look ahead to improving energy efficiency in other energy branches as well.”