WisBusiness: Company hopes to power its future by cutting need for ‘rare earth’ magnets
By Jamie Quam
Madison – With rare earth prices hitting rarified levels, one Madison business is rising to the occasion by developing technology that will reduce the need for imported rare earth magnets.
C-Motive Technology LLC, formally NxGen Power Conversion Solutions, is developing a capacitive exciter technology that could eliminate the use of rare earth permanent magnets used in electric motors, generators and certain high-tech components such as disk drives and lasers.
“Our name now reflects the capacitive technique as applied to moving things, like motors and generators,” said Justin Reed, one of the founders and developers at C-Motive.
Widely available since the 1970s and ‘80s, rare earth magnets are strong, permanent magnets made from alloys. Reed said C-Motive’s technology is able to eliminate these magnets by using next-generation wireless power transfer to push the electrical power onto the spinning rotor. Among other examples, this innovation will help wind turbines use a more sustainable technology to create renewable energy.
Today, the magnets used in motors come from China, where prices skyrocketed by 800 percent in one year when state-owned industries stopped shipments for a while to drive up prices.
Reed and his team had been doing research in motors and generators when they discovered the need for a better option. They began by submitting academic articles about the capacitive exciter that were well received.
To begin the next step of commercialization the company has applied for federal Small Business Innovation Research Phase 1 grants.
“Followed by Phase 2 grants plus a small amount of angel and private matching funds, (this) should carry us a long way towards reaching our goal,” Reed said.
Motors and generators are mass-produced by only a few large companies, creating a highly competitive arena. Like all business markets, the motor manufacturing sector is always looking for new cost-saving opportunities.
But the company’s main competitor actually comes from consumer inaction – the fact the technology isn’t required.
“Companies could just stay doing what they are doing now,” he said, but that’s not a sustainable option if prices continue to rise.
Reed said there are other companies developing the same technology but they are not scalable to this market.
“These companies are using much smaller levels of power,” Reed said. “Their method is less practical and more costly when the power is increased to the level we are working with.”
Globally, the electric machine manufacturing market has a $70 billion potential. But many such companies in the United States are located in the Midwest, making Madison a prime location to develop new energy-related research.
Since 2011 C-Motive has had exclusive licensing through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. In November 2011, the company won the People’s Choice Award for participation in the Elevator Pitch Olympics during the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.
They are now among about two-dozen finalists in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest. So far they have written a short business concept and just finished an executive summary. The team also participated in a “boot camp” where they met with experts and learned more about creating business plans.
The contest culminates in a live presentation of the top three business plan presenters in each category. The four categories are Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services, Information Technology and Life Sciences.
C-Motive will be competing for a spot in the Advanced Manufacturing category, but Reed believes just having the chance to participate is beneficial.
“This is new ground for us and being able to go through each step is very valuable,” Reed said.
According to Reed what sets them apart is the market potential for a well-developed technology. “The technology behind the product has been proven, it now just needs to be commercialized,” he said.
-- Quam is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.