Santanu Singha, Erik Johansson ABB Corporate Research Västerås, Sweden, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com; Peter J. Isberg ABB Motion Service Västerås, Sweden, firstname.lastname@example.org; Emma Westberg ABB MO Discovery Västerås, Sweden, email@example.com
Global energy usage, including industrial energy consumption , is projected to increase by almost 50 percent by 2050. Today, electric motors are among the biggest consumers of electricity world-wide, accounting for between 43 and 46 percent of global electricity consumption (7,108 TWh) . Hence, the energy efficiency of electric motors impacts energy usage considerably .
Used in a wide range of applications, eg, fans, blowers, and machine tools, the 8 million electric motors operating within the European Union, for example, consume nearly 50 percent of the electricity currently produced in the region . A leading driver for increased electricity consumption, industrial motors are predicted to contribute to over 30 percent of the total growth in consumption until 2040 .The significant role that electric motors could play in driving sustainability and influencing climate change going forward is apparent →01.
Without a doubt, sustainability is critical to industrial business strategies, including ABB’s. Sustainability is key to ABB’s company purpose and the value they create for all stakeholders. This strategy rests on three pillars: reducing carbon emissions, preserving resources, and promoting social progress. By developing and implementing a circular approach business strategy, ABB is not only true-to-purpose but is generating tangible data-driven results that customers can use to make a difference.
Circular approach and life cycle thinking
Since the early days of industrialization, the traditional model of running a business has been based on a linear approach to resource consumption that follows a take-make-dispose pattern  →02, in which raw materials are extracted from mines and used to manufacture a product, sold to customers, who then dispose of it when it no longer serves their purpose →02a. However, a linear approach does not necessarily help eliminate waste optimally, nor can it protect industries exposed to business risks associated with resource-connected supply chain disruptions . Such challenges call for a different economic model, one based on a circular approach to value creation – a circular economy →02b. Following a take-make-take pattern, this industrial system is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. The core aim is to “design-out” waste, not simply “eliminate” waste . A circular approach (also known as “closing the loop”) encompasses three basic strategies:
1) Design out waste and pollution (focus on product design)
2) Keep products and materials in use (focus on business models)
3) Regenerate natural systems (focus on regenerating resources)
02 Typical stages of a product’s life cycle are shown based on the traditional approach and the circular economic approach. While eliminating waste and conserving resources are both key objectives, the primary resources of concern are materials and energy in the scenario evaluated.
Grounded on the concept of “life cycle thinking”, defined as a “way of thinking that includes the economic, environmental, and social consequences of a product or process over its entire life” , the circular approach considers a product, process or service in the system holistically – from raw materials, through to manufacturing, consumption (or use) to end-of-life, with the possibility of influencing sustainability at every stage – an absolute must for product sustainability.
Life-cycle assessment of an induction motor – making data-driven decisions
A life cycle assessment (LCA), based on life cycle thinking, is a structured and scientific process used to understand and assess the impact of a product, process, or service over its life cycle as the materials flow within the economy through different stages. Relying on the principles and framework described in ISO 14040:2006, material flows are measured against several different impact categories linked to the environment and ecosystem, typically carbon emissions, global warming potential, ozone-depleting potential, water scarcity, etc.
For an LCA evaluation, ABB chose a low-voltage (LV) induction-type motor. The environmental impact caused by material and energy flows across different phases in the motor’s life-cycle was determined using SimaPro. In a LV motor’s 20-year life cycle, the usage phase contributes to more than 99 percent of direct/indirect carbon emissions. The significance of a motor’s energy efficiency to sustainability is evident →03. Nevertheless, the materials in a motor are no less important from a sustainability viewpoint. Metals, which constitute more than 98 percent of a motor’s structure, are recyclable and therefore reusable – a sustainability advantage→04.
LV motors are already manufactured efficiently nowadays: The design phase uses materials optimally and production is automated in energy efficient factories. Based on ABB’s results, the most practical way to enhance the sustainability footprint of a motor is to design/use motors with high efficiency and to handle the materials appropriately and responsibly at end-of-life.
Energy efficiency: a key sustainability driver
Energy efficiency has become a business-critical topic , often used in conjunction with sustainability. A recent global survey on energy efficiency reported that 97 percent of industry leaders are already investing, or plan to invest, in improving energy efficiency , primarily citing cost savings followed by corporate sustainability commitments as grounds.
Because motors are among the largest consumers of electricity, their design and use contains tremendous potential to save energy. Electrical motors are robust with a long technical life: It is common to find working motors that are 50 or 60 years old. Thus, the installed base in industry and infrastructure does not, in general, meet the efficiency standards of today. Replacing such old inefficient systems as well as motors that are over-dimensioned and consume more power than necessary with more efficient alternatives would be one of the most cost-effective and impactful ways to reduce energy consumption and related emissions . For example, installing an IE5 SynRM motor to replace an IE3 motor could reduce annual CO₂ emissions by 22,000 kg for an application rated at 315 kW . And, from a resource perspective, the rotor of a SynRM motor does not utilize magnets or rare-earth materials, making this product even more sustainable.
Despite the significant savings customers can achieve by upgrading a motor, still greater energy savings result if a high-efficiency motor is used in combination with a variable-speed drive (VSD). For applications, eg, in pumps, fans, and compressors, adding a VSD can typically reduce energy usage by 25 percent . If the more than 300 million industrial electric motor-driven systems currently in operation would be replaced by optimized, high-efficiency equipment, global electricity consumption could be reduced by up to 10 percent  – a phenomenal reduction.
Recognizing this potential, the EU has introduced the Ecodesign Directive to mandate the use of energy efficient motors and drives within industries  to limit energy consumption and the impact on climate. In this way, motor effiiency will play a large role in the EU’s aims to cut energy consumption by 32.5 percent by 2030.
Environmental value of end-of-life management
According to a World Bank report , a low carbon future will be mineral intensive due to an increased need to source more materials to enable clean energy technologies. Because the supply and availability of key minerals will probably be impacted, recycling could play an increased role in meeting this demand, thereby supplying the low-carbon transition. Recycling of motors and their components could contribute to material availability, reducing the need for virgin materials and massively reducing the environmental impact.
ABB estimated this potential using SimaPro to perform a detailed analysis of the environmental impact of recycling the metals in the motors at the end-of-life →05. Practical scenarios were modeled utilizing realistic data associated with the recycling processes and transport. Recycling 10 tons of motors has the potential to save 30 tons of CO₂ emissions, 300 MWh of energy and 91,000 m³ of water – a highly positive outcome →05. In comparison, approximately 300 MWh of energy is used to heat an average-sized villa for 16 years; 91,000 m³ of water can fill 36 Olympic-sized swimming pools→05.
Nonetheless, metals have another advantage – they can be continually and endlessly recycled and reutilized →04. Imagine the environmental benefits if a product’s metals would always be recycled at the end-of-life. Recognizing this potential, ABB is keenly interested in the end-of-life management of electric motors and other products – circular material flows are the future.
Closing the motor loop through collaboration and digitalization
Because sustainability is inherently collaborative, encompassing planet, people and profit, an organization’s sustainable growth is tied to the optimization of these three factors. However, organizations cannot directly influence and control these parameters in isolation, there are other stakeholders in the value chain whose interests, interconnected and equally important, must be simultaneously optimized. Collaborations, alliances or partnerships form the foundations from which a greater impact and a successful sustainable transformation is achieved. By working together with all key stakeholders, a shared sustainability value can be created; one that is long-lasting, scalable, and transformative.
Encouraged by the positive environmental impact results of metal recycling, ABB pioneered a collaboration with the Swedish company Stena Recycling to offer customers the opportunity to recycle their old, end-of-life and inefficient electric motors (smaller LV- and larger HV variants) [14,15], sustainably →06. Beyond lowering emissions, this motor take-back and recycling business model prevents the risk of old, inefficient electric motors from landing in the second-hand market and impacting the environment adversely.
Optimized for the lowest environmental impact, the entire take-back and recycling process is sustainable by design; it considers the total weight of the to-be-recycled motors, distances to be covered, type of transport to be utilized and frequency of transport.
Bringing about sustainable transformation through collaboration can be further strengthened and accelerated through the digital transformation. With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) revolution fully underway, data-driven decision-making can be used to minimize waste and enable a productive and sustainable future. Digitally enabled products, solutions and services can be used to capture real-time data to disclose the status of equipment and systems, thereby triggering appropriate decisions to optimize and improve energy efficiency. For example, ABB placed smart sensors for energy analysis on motors at SCA facilities in Munksund, Sweden, one of ABB’s customers . The smart sensors delivered information about the condition and active power on the motor shaft that was used. Data assessment makes it possible to determine the active and reactive power used, annual active and reactive power consumption, and whether the motor is correctly dimensioned for the application as well as savings potential (kWh, € and kg CO₂) if the motor is replaced. So far, SCA Munksund has recycled 28 tons of motors with ABB’s recycling circular model. Based on the assessment, eleven tons of motors were identified, replaced and transported to the Stena Recycling plant .
ABB’s motor take-back and recycling business model is flexible. The scheme can be tailored to include relevant digital solutions, energy-efficient motor offerings, primarily to improve the sustainability value of the whole process. In fact, a combination of processes involving recycling inefficient motors and replacing these with new and more energy efficient motors – an “upcycling” initiative – lowers carbon emissions in both process steps – a winning solution for customers. There is also the opportunity for still greater sustainability benefits: ABB can, in specific cases, offer customers economic incitements based on the value of the recycled metals, such as a certificate of destruction and an environmental report together with Stena Recycling, when they purchase new products from ABB .
Making change happen with circularity
Decision-making for product sustainability must start with data and an understanding of the environmental impact associated with the entire-life cycle of the product, which in this case, is an electric motor. Depending on the carbon footprint at different phases of the life cycle, appropriate opportunities exist for sustainable improvements as assessed through LCA modeling and brainstorming →07. While the presented case is specific to a scenario in which the motor has an expected application life of 20 years; another scenario with a motor characterized by a shorter life, and hence different sustainability assessment results, would require other approaches to be adopted to minimize environmental impact.
By focusing on energy efficiency during the use-phase and a recycling business model at the end-of-life →06, ABB achieved the most positive environmental contribution possible. Looking ahead, more opportunities to further strengthen the motor’s sustainability will certainly arise, eg, utilizing better materials or other business models that allow the circular approach within a phase or multiple phases →07.
With increasing awareness and future technological developments, the vast opportunities to improve a product’s sustainability can be daunting, and, yet the concept of “circular thinking” will remain at the core of product sustainability. Adopting the right circular approach will be the key to the best sustainable solution. ABB’s circular framework provides the opportunity to ponder the most appropriate circular approach for an existing- or future product. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with ABB to define how to create a circular future for their products and ABB is doing just that.
 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “International Energy Outlook 2021”, p. 12, Available: https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo [Accessed November 24, 2022].
 C.U. Brunner and P. Waide, “Energy-Efficiency Policy Opportunities for Electric Motor-Driven Systems” IEA- International Energy Agency, 2011, pp. 1– 128
 European commission, “Electric motors | European Commission”, 2020.
 International Energy Agency, “Energy Policies of IEA Countries: Sweden 2019” OECD (Energy Policies of IEA Countries) , 2019, pp. 1 – 165.
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “Towards the Circular Economy”, 2013, pp. 1 – 98.
 United Nations Environment Programme Life Cycle Initiative Website, [Online] Available: https://www.lifecycleinitiative.org/starting-life-cycle-thinking/what-is-life-cycle-thinking/ [Accessed September 8, 2022].
 ABB Website, The Energy Efficiency Movement, Available: https://www.energyefficiencymovement.com/en/ [Accessed: November 4, 2022].
 A. Guggisberg “Data is key to boosting industrial energy efficiency”, The Business Reporter, Available: https://www.reuters.com/brandfeature/the-business-reporter/sustainability-hub/data-is-key-to-boosting-industrial-energy-efficiency [Accessed September 8, 2022].
 ABB webstory, ”ABB IE5SynRM motors are awarded Efficient Solution label”, 2020, Available: https://new.abb.com/news/detail/71053/abb-ie5-synrm-motors-are-awarded-efficient-solution-label [Accessed September 8, 2022].
 ABB white paper, “Reaching IE5 efficiency with magnet-free motors”, 2021, pp. 1 – 9.
 Stefan Floeck, “Circularity: the new direction of choice”, The Business Reporter Website, Available: https://www.reuters.com/brandfeature/the-business-reporter/sustainability-hub/circularity-the-new-direction-of-choice [Accessed: November 1, 2022].
 Website of the European Commission for Energy, climate change and the environment, Available: https://ec.europa.eu/info/energy-climate-change-environment/standards-tools-and-labels/products-labelling-rules-and-requirements/energy-label-and-ecodesign/energy-efficient-products/electric-motors_en [Accessed: September 8, 2022].
 K. Hund et al., “Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition”, The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development World Bank, 2020, pp. 1 – 112.
 ABB Press release, “ABB’s recycled motors provide significant environmental savings – reduced 34 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in pilot projects”, 2021, Available: https://new.abb.com/news/sv/detail/80118/abbs-recycled-motors-provide-significant-environmental-savings-reduced-34-tons-of-carbon-dioxide-emissions-in-pilot-projects [Accessed September 8, 2022].
 ABB press release, Partnering Together for a Circular Economy: ABB Large Motors and Generators Sweden and Stena Recycling, May 10, 2022, Available: https://new.abb.com/news/detail/90905/partnering-together-for-a-circular-economy-abb-large-motors-and-generators-sweden-and-stena-recycling [Accessed September 8, 2022].