Faculty of Engineering


Contributing to Society 5.0 with Smart Electric Motors

In this edition of “Tell Us Teacher,” we interviewed Dr. Fuat Kucuk, a lecturer from Turkey who specializes in electromechanical engineering, power electronics, renewable energy conversion, and electric vehicles in the Department of Mechanical and Electrical Systems Engineering in the KUAS Faculty of Engineering.

Q:What kind of child were you?

I was born in a small village in Trabzon city, one of the greenest places in Turkey. My birthplace is in a very mountainous area and living in such a place was a little difficult sometimes. My parents taught me how to overcome those difficulties, and that eventually became a part of my character. I liked playing with my toys very much, and when I received a toy from my parents or relatives, I was always very curious about how it moved, and then started to disassemble it to see what was going on inside. I was always interested in moving mechanisms, motors, and so on. Among the toys I received, I was interested in cars and helicopters the most.

Q:What did you study at university?

Before entering university, I knew that I wanted to become an engineer, but I did not make a solid decision on my field of specialization. In Tukey, we have a national university exam like in Japan. However, the universities themselves do not have entrance exams. So, the candidates wrote in their preferred majors and universities, and the government would place you in one of your choices according to your score on the exam. In the end, I graduated from the major of Electrical Engineering. I studied electromechanical energy conversion systems such as motors and actuators and their power electronic drive circuits.

My hometown university, Istanbul Technical University, is one of the prestigious universities in Turkey and is very strong in the field of engineering. And research environment there motivated me to become a good electrical engineer and contribute to the industry.

Q:Why did you decide to come to Japan?

I came to Japan in 2005 for the first time for my Ph.D. I had many motivations to come to Japan. The most important thing was the technological developments in Japan. Additionally, there were many Japanese company investments in Turkey such as Toyota, Isuzu, Kajima, and so on. And I always wondered how Japanese companies could produce really good technological products and how Japanese people displayed such ingenuity all over the world. In particular, the shinkansen was a good example. Although the shinkansen had been in operation for a long time in Japan, the maximum train speed in Turkey was less than 100 kilometers per hour. I was very curious about the mechanisms behind these high-speed trains. Another motivation for me was hybrid electric vehicles. At that time, Toyota was producing vehicles with a very effective combination of combustion engine and electric motor technology, and this great success was appreciated all over the world, including me.

The funniest reason for my coming to Japan was the influence of Japanese Samurai movies. My favorite one is “The Last Samurai”, and I watched it several times until I had memorized all the words, even though I did not know Japanese at all at the time. As you know, Turkey has a strong historical relationship with European countries, so western culture, including American culture, is well-known in Turkey. However, Japanese culture is little known to us. This was another reason to become curious about Japan. Though I did not know the Japanese language at all, I followed the suggestions of my friend who used to live in Japan, and I decided to go to Tohoku University as they are very strong in the field of engineering and have advanced laboratories. 
When I first arrived at Narita Airport, I was so surprised by the cultural difference. Furthermore, the only Japanese words that I knew were “konnichiwa” and “sayonara”. I couldn’t read, write nor speak Japanese at all. Since then, I have tried to absorb Japanese culture, and once I got beyond a certain threshold, it became very easy for me to live in Japan.

Q:What have you been researching?

I have focused on the study of motor and motor drive technology since my third year in university. At that time, the first commercial hybrid electric vehicles appeared, which were produced by Toyota. This technology was very successful, and a great inspiration for me. I could guess that that ground vehicles like automobiles and buses, and even some air vehicles, would eventually be powered entirely by electricity. I knew that the future would come soon and that I wanted to be involved in this technology.

I have been researching Switch Reluctance Motors (“SRM”) for a long time. These are very cheap motors, but with a power density that is a little lower than current permanent magnet EV motors. The main problem with permanent magnet EV motors is that they require permanent magnets made out of materials such as neodymium. Neodymium is a little expensive and the supply of neodymium is highly reliant on China.

So, the question is how to mitigate the problem of SRMs having a lower power density. To increase the power density, we can use a mixture of permanent and non-permanent magnets together inside the SRM. At the same time, we need to keep the cost low, so cheaper magnets are required. I am currently researching ways to increase the power density of SRMs using neodymium alternative magnets. At the same time, we are searching for ways to apply variable magnet technology to control the magnetization level of the magnets. For example, when you climb a mountain in an EV, you need high power and high torque since the speed is low, so it would be advantageous to fully magnetize the magnets in this case. However, when you drive down a straight, flat road, it would be better to decrease the magnetization. This is because when you increase speed with the same level of magnetization, these magnets start disturbing the motor’s performance. On the other hand, when you go coast downhill, you may want to use the motor to generate electricity instead of allowing that kinetic energy to be lost as heat. So, the magnets can be fully magnetized again and, by using a dynamic braking system, the motor acts as a generator and to generate electricity. We may eventually succeed in combining all these functions with the motor, called permanent magnet assisted SRM or variable magnet SRM. Thus, we will be able to change the magnetization level based on road conditions to increase motor performance.

As you know, the world is suffering from air pollution and CO2 emission because 60% of all electricity is still produced from fossil fuels. We need to increase the role of renewable energy in power generation before it is too late, so I am also interested in developing low-cost generators for wind energy conversion systems.

Q:How do you hope to contribute to society?

I would like to stay in Japan and work at KUAS for a long time. I would like to get involved in many projects to develop new technologies. No doubt, almost all vehicles will use “Smart Electric Motors” as their primary motivation in the future. Variable magnet technology will definitely contribute to this trend. Like the KUAS Faculty of Engineering’s slogan, “Be a street smart engineer”, I hope to apply “street smarts” to my motor research. I want to work together with research students to produce smart electric motors for new future technology. Smart motor technology will increase the efficiency as well as the range of electric vehicles, as they will adjust their performance depending on road conditions and overcome the limitations of current permanent magnet motor technology. Of course, we are already using electric motors every day, such as in our home appliances, robotics, and electric vehicles. But we still have a lot of work to do to develop new motor technologies. For example, we are about to enter the era of passenger drones. Designing the motors for passenger drones is one of my key research targets. These motors will need to be very powerful and lightweight so that load capacities can be increased. Increasing the role of electric vehicles in transportation systems will help to solve our environmental problems.

Q:What advice do you have for KUAS students?

I’m very excited to meet my students and discuss motor technology with them. When I was in my hometown university and first read the news about hybrid cars, I was excited about what would come next. The most important thing for students is motivation, and being motivated is one step toward achieving your dreams. Having a lot of knowledge is valuable, but you don’t need to know everything in detail. Instead, just focus on some specific targets and improve your skills in that field. This will save time if you work in a well-motivated team because you can just combine your abilities to create meaningful work. We are not living in the era of Leonardo da Vinci, where people were expected to know about many different fields. Instead, we are surrounded by a sea of knowledge, and we need to discover what information is useful for us. I want to invite my students to search for that information together with me to build a better future.

Q:How do you spend your time off?

I live with my family, and I have two kids. They are seven and nine years old and they are attending Elementary School here in Japan. I try to spare time for them on my weekends. I like cycling with them and playing soccer at our neighborhood park.

During COVID-19, we have avoided going to crowded places. So, except for shopping and cycling, we prefer to stay at home. Of course, we still do a lot of refreshing outdoor activities. Recently, the most exciting thing for me has been gardening and growing some fresh vegetables since we have a big garden.

Learn more about Dr. Fuat Kucuk