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Kevin Bai standing in front of the CURENT sign

Bai leads $5M Grant from DOE-VTO to Produce Smaller, More Efficient Motor Drive Systems for Electric Vehicles

Kevin Bai, associate professor in the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), shares a principle-investigator role in a collaboration with the ABB Group’s US Research Center to develop an integrated, compact drive inverter and motor for electric vehicles that would reduce both the size and cost of electric drive trains.

Bai’s proposed compact motor drive system would be used in electric passenger vehicles and medium-to-heavy duty trucks. This new design would reduce cost by significantly reducing the usage of rare earth permanent magnets.

“The system integration is also a major innovation,” said Bai. “Currently, the majority of inverters and motors are designed by different companies, which makes the EV OEMs difficult to integrate and optimize the overall system. By doing the integration together, we can let inverter and motor share the same enclosure or coolant, thereby reducing the size.”

electric vehicle motor component built by Kevin Bai

electric vehicle motor components built by Kevin Bai

Bai will work with co-PIs Leon Tolbert, Chancellor’s Professor and interim EECS department head, and Daniel Costinett, EECS associate professor, to organize development within project-leading UT and with partner universities in this 39-month plan. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will help design the heatsink and provide the high-power dynamometer, Lucid Motors will provide system specs and design guidance, the University of Michigan, Dearborn, will design the control system of the inverter, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) will design its integrated gate driver.

“In addition to the project management, my role is also to design, package and test the inverter at the UT side, then coordinate with other parties, particularly ABB on the system integration and test,” said Bai.

ABB is an industry member with CURENT, collaborating on multiple projects, and Bai has strong ties with the university partners.

“They are the worldwide expert in motor design, which fits perfect in this project,” said Bai. “UM-Dearborn was my former employer; ORNL and RPI PIs all work with us on some ongoing projects. Lucid Motors is a renowned EV company, which is aligned with my research interest.”