ABB technologies that changed the world: variable-speed drives

There are few items of equipment that are as crucial to industrial processes – and few that convert as much energy - as the electric motor. In fact about two-thirds of all the electrical energy produced in the world is converted into mechanical energy by electric motors. 

The vast majority of these motors are used to power fans, pumps and compressors. Most of these applications operate at constant speed, all the time, even when not needed, using throttles or valves to control the flow of fluids or gases. They waste huge amounts of energy and produce large quantities of CO2 emissions – unnecessarily. Not so with ABB variable-speed drives. Launched in 1969, ABB variable-speed drives control the core variables of the motor and adapt its speed and torque according to the precise needs of the application.

Equipped with a revolutionary ABB technology called Direct Torque Control (DTC), the drives calculate the state of the motor at phenomenally high speed. This enables drives to control the motor with precision and react rapidly to sudden process and load changes. The result is a dramatic reduction in power consumption – typically by around 50 percent in pump, fan and compressor applications – and a considerable improvement in process control. In 2008 ABB's installed base of low-voltage drives saved an estimated 170 terawatt-hours of electric power, enough to meet the annual needs of 42 million households in the European Union and reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by some 140 million tons a year, equivalent to the yearly emissions of more than 35 million cars.

ABB is the world’s leading supplier of AC and DC low-voltage drives and high-power, medium-voltage drives, with a product portfolio of drive systems that extends across a large power range, from 100 watts to 100 megawatts.

ABB drives are used to improve energy efficiency in most industries and applications, from single-phase residential and commercial buildings to huge all-electric drive systems that power entire natural gas liquefaction plants and gigantic gearless mill drives that grind ore and minerals into smaller pieces at mines and processing plants.

In fact, drives are an integral part of much larger ABB power and automation offerings that help customers use electrical energy effectively and increase productivity in energy-intensive industries like cement, metals, mining, oil and gas, power generation, and pulp and paper.

Remarkable results
Some of the improvements achieved by ABB drives in energy efficiency, productivity and process control are truly remarkable. For instance:

• Four ABB low-voltage AC drives enabled British bank Coutts & Co to make energy savings of 90 percent by running pumps in the air conditioning system at a fraction of their previous speed. The savings are worth about $110,000 a year and have cut the company’s annual carbon footprint by 500 metric tons.

• Two ABB DC drives – part of a larger ABB revamp of a mine hoist at a KGHM copper mine in Poland - reduced the cycle time of the hoist on its 1,053 meter journey from the mining area to the surface. The revamp increased mine productivity by 15 percent and enabled KGHM to extend the operating life of its 30 year-old motors.

• ABB medium-voltage drive systems enable sugar cane plants throughout Central America to become self-sufficient producers of electrical energy and increase their revenues by as much as $1 million a year by selling surplus power to the local grid.

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