Advanced Electric Machines

James Widmer
About: James Widmer - CEO and Co-founder

Professor James Widmer is the CEO and Co-founder of Advanced Electric Machines. He is also a part-time chair in Electric Propulsion Systems at Coventry University and serves as a part-time Director of the Advanced Propulsion Centre's Electric Machines Spoke at Newcastle University, focusing on low-carbon vehicle research and innovation in the UK electric machines community.

1. Before we delve into the specifics, could you please introduce yourself and provide a brief overview of your background, highlighting your role and expertise in the advanced battery and electric & hybrid vehicle industry?

I’m Dr James Widmer, CEO and Co-founder of Advanced Electric Machines.

After obtaining my PhD from Newcastle University in 2009, I ventured into the electric and hybrid vehicle industry, focusing on sustainable solutions. Collaborating with Dr. Andy Steven, we prioritized the research and development of rare-earth-free electric motors. Our efforts led to the establishment of Newcastle University’s Centre for Advanced Electrical Drives, where we developed early electric vehicle powertrains and helped companies hit milestones, including the world’s longest self-powered flight.

By 2017, we had engineered a commercially viable, high-performance rare-earth-free electric motor, outperforming traditional motors in sustainability and ethics. This innovation led to the creation of Advanced Electric Machines, which, by 2019, had secured £25 million in seed funding to grow our HDSRM commercial vehicle motor production. Collaborating with major automotive players, such as Bentley, we’ve driven forward the adoption of sustainable electric motors, also presenting at COP26 to emphasize the importance of environmentally responsible vehicle electrification.

Our progress was recently bolstered by a further £23 million in Series A funding, enabling us to enhance our production capabilities and increase our global footprint.

2. What motivated you to participate as a speaker at The Battery Show Europe 2024? What specific goals or expectations do you have for your participation? Additionally, could you shed light on the key topics you plan to address during your presentation?

We’re taking part as we want to connect and collaborate with top electrification experts and engage with the latest industry trends. I’m excited to showcase our groundbreaking innovations that represent a step-change in the industry and share our unique approach to sustainable mobility solutions.

An environment like this is great for fostering discussions that could ultimately further the advancement of electric vehicle technology. Our presentation will focus on a holistic approach to powertrain design, illustrating how our unique technology and collaboration with Bentley are helping them to meet their ambitious electrification goals.

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3. From your perspective, what are the most significant trends currently shaping the advanced battery and electric & hybrid vehicle industry?

Naturally, we’re seeing an ever-growing number of businesses seek environmentally sustainable solutions for electrification. More and more, we are seeing these companies looking to improve not only Scope 1 and 2 emissions but Scope 3 as well.  This is where our unique rare earth-free motors leap forward over traditional permanent magnet motors. There’s also a push towards scaling up solutions to ensure supply chain resilience and efficiency, which is pivotal for the industry's long-term growth and innovation.

4. In your opinion, what are the key business and technical challenges facing the industry, especially in areas like next-generation battery development and OEM technology strategies for battery design? Can you share practical examples or case studies related to these challenges?

Although not directly applicable to AEM, the utilization of batteries is key, and maximizing the efficiency of energy use will help accelerate the adoption of EV and zero-emission technology.  To that end, our motors provide high efficiency over a broader range of typical operations in comparison to other technologies.

5. How do you see innovation and growth contributing to the advancement of the industry? What role do new technologies play in this process?

Innovation and growth are, of course, going to play a major role in the advancement of the industry. As mentioned, supply chain resilience, cost, and efficiency need to be areas of focus for future developments. New technologies are important for broadening the scope of electrification, enabling it to cater to diverse applications and meet an expanding array of customer requirements.

However, for these advancements to be truly effective, there must be a holistic consideration of all supporting technologies, including innovative materials, comprehensive testing, and accurate simulations. This integrated approach ensures the industry not only grows but evolves to meet future challenges and opportunities efficiently.

6. The conference emphasizes themes such as sourcing, scaling, production, next-gen materials, battery safety, and more. Can you share your insights on a specific theme that you find particularly crucial for the industry's development? How do you see this theme evolving in the coming years?

For us, next-generation materials and processes stand out as crucial themes for the industry’s development, as they serve as the foundation for creating advanced products that meet evolving environmental, geo-political, commercial, and customer needs. Most importantly, it’s about securing and scaling these to facilitate and keep pace with industry innovation and customer demands.

7. With the increasing importance of regulatory compliance, how do you see the industry navigating battery policies, and what regulatory insights will you be discussing at the conference? Can you provide examples of successful strategies in navigating regulatory challenges?

Although batteries are not our area of focus, they’re a vital part of the overall EV powertrain, so we’re always monitoring current and future policy. Much has been said about the sustainability tracking of batteries, with ‘passports’ coming into force in the EU later this decade. Consideration, however, must also be given to the overall environmental footprint of the powertrain, including the electric motors and the rare earth materials so often used to build them.

8. The concept of gigafactories is gaining momentum. How do you envision the role of gigafactories in the future of advanced battery production, considering environmental and sustainability factors? What challenges and opportunities do they present?

It is our opinion that anything that can reduce the volume price and improve the quality of vehicle batteries is positive and will help accelerate the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.

9. Conferences provide an excellent platform for collaboration and networking. Can you share personal experiences or success stories related to collaboration at industry events? How do events like The Battery Show Europe contribute to fostering collaboration among battery manufacturers, suppliers, engineers, and thought leaders?

Collaboration and networking are hugely important to industry development. Our OCTOPUS project, which forms the basis of our panel discussion at The Battery Show Europe, is a testament to this. Together with the support of Bentley and other industry partners, we developed an integrated passenger car e-axle. Events like this are the platforms for these introductions and initial conversations to happen.

10. Looking ahead, what do you foresee as the most exciting developments or breakthroughs in the advanced battery and electric & hybrid vehicle industry over the next few years? How might these impact the industry landscape?

It is clear that, on the whole, the industry is moving towards a greater use of lower-cost, safer Lithium Iron chemistries. But for use, the LFP blends such as magnesium that move LFP performance into the window of NMC is fascinating.  However, we feel that governments and legislators need to revisit the potential of hybrids, especially in heavier vehicles, to support the road to net zero emissions.

11. Considering the interdependence of technology with market motives, application scenarios, and material availability, could you share insights on the evolving role of Material Science in driving the future of the industrial application battery business? How do advancements in material science contribute to the industry's progress, and what impacts do you foresee on applications and business strategies?

Material science advancements are pivotal in shaping the whole powertrain engineering business, as they enable us to meet and exceed customer expectations in performance and sustainability. By collaborating with partners to source and develop innovative materials, we're on the front foot when it comes to manufacturing future-ready products.

12. Lastly, what advice would you give to attendees looking to make the most out of their participation in The Battery Show Europe 2024, and how can they stay ahead in this rapidly evolving industry? Additionally, is there anything else you would like to share with the audience as closing remarks?

To maximize your experience at The Battery Show Europe 2024, I’d suggest that you network, as that’s how you develop collaborative opportunities with industry partners. Ultimately, innovation accelerates through collaboration. But the most important thing is to come and visit AEM and see how our technology can progress the industry toward a zero-emission future.