A second life for electric motors
© Schaeffler
January 2024

A second life for electric motors

By Jan Horst
A consortium led by Schaeffler developing strategies for the repair, remanufacture and reuse of electric motors

Powertrain electrification is growing steadily. It is a major trend, involving electric motors that contain valuable raw materials, such as electrical steel, copper, and rare-earth metals. The reuse of these materials needs to be a key part of the electrification paradigm if the world is to meet its medium-term CO2 emission targets. The problem is that the market currently lacks sustainable value-retention strategies for extending the usage phase of electric motors and bringing them into the circular economy. REASSERT aims to remedy this. Under the project, a consortium led by Schaeffler is developing strategies for the repair, remanufacture, and reuse of electric motors. Schaeffler’s partners in the consortium are the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (Fraunhofer IPA), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s wbk Institute of Production Science, BRIGHT Testing GmbH, iFAKT GmbH, and Riebesam GmbH & Co. KG. The project is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

Reducing environmental impacts

The objective of the project is to develop an electric motor that is easy to disassemble and is suitable for the circular economy. “With REASSERT, we and our partners are pursuing the value-retention strategies of repair, reuse, and remanufacture in order to reduce the consumption of natural resources and minimize waste,” explains Thomas Pfund, Head of Business Unit Electric Motors at Schaeffler.

The project partners define repair as replacing defective components and assemblies. Reuse refers to the secondary use of the entire electric motor. And the remanufacture strategy involves restoring electric motors to as-new quality and functionality backed by a full manufacturer’s warranty. If the condition of a motor makes it unsuitable for any of these three options, it can still be disassembled, and its constituent materials recycled.

Building a process chain

To test this concept, the project consortium is building a complete process chain, each step of which will have its own demonstrator (test rig). The chain will span all aspects of the value-retention process – from inspection and classification of electric motors on receipt, to disassembly, demagnetization, cleaning, and component diagnosis and remanufacturing, through to reassembly and end-of-line testing. The partners will then use the lessons learned to develop an electric motor that is suitable for the circular economy.

Significance for the aftermarket

For independent repair shops, electric motors are currently extremely difficult to repair because of the complexities and technical requirements involved. That’s why the consortium is working on a solution for remanufacturing electric motors for secondary use via the aftermarket. As well as benefiting the environment, this option will spare vehicle owners the expense of having to buy new when swapping out faulty or damaged motors. Maik Evers, Head of Program Management Powertrain Systems at Schaeffler’s Automotive Aftermarket division, explains: “In this project, we and our partners are taking the next big step in aftermarket parts for electric vehicles. We are laying the foundation for the sustainable repair of electric powertrains.”