Genoa - It’s difficult to believe that electric cars will ever replace traditional automobiles when it takes infinitely longer to recharge a battery than to fill a tank with petrol. Even the “fast” recharging stations that ENEL is installing in Italy take between forty minutes and an hour to give an electric car a range of just over 200 kilometres.
But in fact this limitation can already be overcome, as Marco Venturini explains: “Today it is possible to design vehicles with 500 and even 1,000-kilometre ranges, and they can be recharged in fifteen to twenty minutes. But this requires investment, and Italy is far behind.” Venturini, with Phase Motion Control, where is he CEO, is financing a project at the University of Genoa’s Chemistry Department to research new batteries, recycling batteries, and ultra-fast recharging.
Phase Motion Control is a 110-employee company with a 30 million turnover that designs and manufactures electric motors. The lift motors that Otis uses in the tallest skyscrapers are made here; so too are the industrial machine motors required by DMG-Mori, the largest group in the world in numerical control machine tools; they are also found in the simulator rides at Disney’s amusement parks and powering massive telescopes in Chile, the Canary Islands and Hawaii.
After fighting for eight years against a bureaucracy that prevented it from building a factory in Genoa, Phase Motion Control found its definitive location in the former Genoese headquarters of Piaggio Aerospace: a 35,000sqm site in Sestri Ponente replete with warehouses and offices.
Forty years ago, Venturini was a university researcher with great prospects: “Even before graduating with a degree in nuclear engineering, I wound up at the University of California in Berkeley, and I stayed there until 1981. But the world of academia was rather limiting, I liked producing value and measuring myself against the world.” So in the eighties, after selling a patent to Texas Instruments, he was hired by the company to work at a research centre in the UK. There he got in contact with Philips, which at the time had an engine division for electrical automation in Casella, Genoa, and when they offered him a job in Italy it seemed too good to be true. But ten years later Philips decided to sell its plant in Genoa, and Venturini set out on his own with the founding of his own company. “The anxiety of the first trial is still with me. The European Space Agency had given us the task of constructing an electric actuator to control the nozzle of a missile engine. The ESA tested our prototype, and the outcome of that test would determine our future. I’m here to tell the story, so it must have gone well.”
From his university days, Venturini, who is now 64 years old, has kept his will to innovate, to continuously look for new problems and resolve them. “We want to be the Ferrari of the electric motor”, he says jokingly, but thinks about it seriously. He says, “We aren’t interested in economies of scale simply to reduce costs. We win customers over by improving the quality and performance of our engines and actuators; superior performance delivers value in the application; and innovation grows and creates the future.”
Phase Motion Control began doing business in China eighteen years ago with a local partner in a factory that now employs 750 and produces the motors for BJEV, the largest Chinese maker of electric cars. A few months ago, Phase sold 51% of that factory to the Chinese government, but it continues to design the motors. “Electric cars, and therefore their engines, are the future,” says Venturini confidently, “but to truly grasp it we have to improve the batteries. China, Korea and the United States are already ahead. It’s time for Italy to do its part.”