Science

Color-changing dye could warn of motor failure in electric cars

Color-changing dye could warn ...
The dye normally fluoresces reddish-orange under ultraviolet light, but turns green when a telltale alcohol is present
The dye normally fluoresces reddish-orange under ultraviolet light, but turns green when a telltale alcohol is present
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The dye normally fluoresces reddish-orange under ultraviolet light, but turns green when a telltale alcohol is present
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The dye normally fluoresces reddish-orange under ultraviolet light, but turns green when a telltale alcohol is present

Although some people may think that electric cars can run forever, their motors do wear out over time. According to a new study, special dyes could allow drivers and mechanics to know when that time is about to come.

Electric motors in automobiles and other devices contain tightly wound copper wires, which are coated in an insulating resin. Due to factors such as heat produced by the motor, that resin becomes increasingly brittle as time goes by. It eventually cracks and fails, at which point the motor has to be replaced.

Unfortunately, before that point is reached, there's no simple way of determining just how degraded the resin has become. That said, scientists from Germany's Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg – and the Elantas insulating materials company – recently discovered that four commonly used resins all gradually release a specific type of alcohol in response to heat.

The researchers experimented with various dyes that bind with that alcohol, and that don't compromise the functional properties of the resin. They ultimately selected one that ordinarily glows reddish-orange when exposed to ultraviolet light, but that turns green when bound with the alcohol. The greater the amount of alcohol that's present, the greener the dye fluoresces.

It is now envisioned that electric motors could be equipped not only with resin containing the dye, but also with compact optical reader devices that would periodically check the state of that resin. If it was determined that the resin was becoming seriously degraded, the vehicle owner would be alerted.

Such a system could spare drivers from roadside breakdowns, plus it might also ensure that still-functional motors weren't prematurely replaced based on nothing more than an estimate of their lifespan.

A paper on the research, which is being led by the university's Prof. Wolfgang Binder, was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Source: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

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1 comment
martinwinlow
(I would question that well designed and un-abused regular EV motors get hot enough to degrade wire insulation in the first place (in my experience they rarely exceed 50 degrees C) but...)

Surely it would be an *awful* lot easier to just measure the insulation resistance of the motors windings, periodically, using pretty much off-the-shelf testing equipment to achieve exactly the same task? You could probably even build it into the motor/motor controller relatively simply... which begs the question why hasn't it... if it's such an issue that needs such a radical solution?