Here Comes Hyperdrive
By Bill Moore
With every major car manufacturer developing its own hybrid-electric drive system, and two of them already selling gasoline-electric hybrids in North America, Europe and Asia, why would a small Michigan company gamble on developing its own hybrid engine design?
Because they think they have a better idea.
Meet the Paice Corporation of Livonia, Michigan, developers of the promising, new Hyperdrive, a hybrid-electric drive what will, the company hopes, put affordable and profitable advanced electric drive systems in millions of cars, trucks and SUVs, and not just thousands.
The brainchild of Russian émigré, Dr. Alex J. Severinsky, the Hyperdrive is different from current offerings by Toyota and Honda in that it uses very high power electric motors instead of a transmission and advanced, spiral-wound, gel-cell lead acid batteries in place of more expensive NiMH. But more on that later.
EV World spoke with Paice's Chief Operating Officer, Ted Louckes - - pronounced "Lucas" - - about the company and its technology. Louckes is no stranger to the automotive industry. He spent 40 years with GM, retiring in 1988 as the chief engineer of the Oldsmobile Division.
Louckes told EV World that the idea for the Hyperdrive came to Severinsky more than two decades ago during the second OPEC oil embargo while stuck waiting in a long gas line under a broiling Dallas, Texas sun. A systems PhD who had emigrated to the US in the early 1970s, Severinsky knew there had to be a better way to improve the efficiency of automobile.
According to Louckes, Severinsky became to study the problem and in the process came across a patent filed by TRW Corporation in the late 1960s. Louckes said that patent depicted "a system that is pretty much exactly the same [as] Toyota has implemented in their Prius."
As Louckes explained it, Severinsky met with the inventor and then came up with "some original ideas that seemed to be a better solution in many respects." He filed his own patent application, which was eventually awarded him by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the early 1990s.
What sets Severinsky's design apart from the current bevy of hybrid-electric drives is its use of very high voltages. Where the Insight and Prius operate in the 300-volt range, Hyperdrive operates in the 600 to 800-volt range, with the ability to go higher for heavy vehicle applications.
Louckes explained why Severinsky took this approach.
"One of the things he appreciated [is] the that economics of hybrids are not attractive. As you know there's substantial cost increase for the hybrids that are being sold today.
"The key issue was to get the power electronics and the electrical side costs down, and in order to do that, he needed to operate at much higher voltage. That was not practical until IGBTs, insulated gate bi-polar transistors, were made at very high voltage, 1,400 volts. That allowed for efficient, low-cost power electronics."
The introduction of these high voltage IGBTs made it possible for Severinsky to begin development of his new hybrid-electric vehicle design in earnest. In 1998, he formed Paice Corporation and raised the necessary money to begin development, Louckes explained.
While the basic Hyperdrive system is intended for use in conventional-sized automobiles, the company is also developing what Louckes calls a "menu" of application topologies that can be tailored to the needs of various sizes of vehicles including large SUVs.
Louckes pointed out that hybrid-electric drive is an emerging technology and that Paice is on the "fast slope of new ideas and improvements."
"We're making additional applications for patents. There are three currently issued. There is another one in process and we're writing up two more. So it's a very active, inventive, activity right now."
According to Louckes, the Hyperdrive system shares few similarities with either the Toyota TMS or Honda IMA systems. He explained that both are what he calls "state-matching" gear systems, adding that the TMS approach is a "one-on-one copy" of the original TRW patent, a claim sure to raise a few hackles at Toyota.
"It's problem is, it does not allow for the computer system to select at all times the most efficient way to operate the engine. And that's fundamental to making a hybrid most efficient; being able to select the mode of operation no matter what the driving conditions so that you use the engine only in its efficient modes."
Louckes explains that in order to increase the efficiency of the gasoline engine in the TRW design, you have to expand the "sweet spot" in the engine, which increases its cost, and you have to sacrifice some of its power. He pointed out this type of engine is called an "Atkinson-cycle engine." A modified version of this engine is used in the Prius.
Another cost factor in hybrid-electric engine design is the voltage at which is operates. Louckes stated, "the cost of electronics is proportional to the square of the current. Unless you can get the current very low, you will have extremely high cost."
"The alternative then is to keep the power low," he explained. This somewhat "boxes in" the TRW-based design. "We operate at very high voltage [and] very low current. Therefore we have very low cost, more powerful motors.
"Secondly, we can do it more efficiently [with] lower losses. Like any power company, the reason they send electricity down the transmission lines at very high voltage is they get very low losses. It's much more efficient. So we come from a more efficient electronics side, lower costs in that area. And in addition to that, we're able to operate in all modes of hybridization."
Louckes contends Severinsky's design allows Hyperdrive to operate as a pure electric, serial hybrid and parallel hybrid as the situation demands.
"Being able to choose those, regardless of the driving situation, allows us to power select instantaneously, in all driving conditions, the most efficient way to operate."
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Hyperdrive is its lack of a transmission, at least in most light duty vehicle applications. Instead, the design makes use of a powerful electric motor. However, Louckes noted that in SUV applications, there would be a transmission in order to provide the vehicle with greater towing capability, which is one of the reasons consumers buy these vehicles.
In these cases, Paice proposes putting a "simple, two-speed" transmission on the output side of the gasoline engine. By contrast, a typical passenger car would require no gear reduction system, instead relying on a simple clutch mechanism to tie together the ICE and electric drive motor. Louckes claims a Hyperdrive vehicle will have better acceleration than a comparable ICE-only vehicle.
He also contends that an SUV equipped with their system will be able to tow a boat or trailer up steep grades with the same performance as a larger displacement engine.
The other intriguing aspect of the Hyperdrive design is its utilization of a new, prismatic, 48-volt sealed lead-acid battery module. Whereas most other current designs rely on nickel metal hydride batteries to provide the electric engine needed by the electric motor and regenerative braking system, Paice believes their new lead-acid battery design will be just as effective and cost less.
"We've got tests doing on right now and have assured ourselves that, properly done, a properly configured cell, connected correctly in the modules, we expect to make 48-volt modules. . . We'll have those connected in series. Every module will have internal thermal controls [and] electronic controls in terms of the health and maintenance of the battery system. And since we use it very gently, we never take out the maximum 20 percent state of charge at any time and usually less than that."
Louckes believes this approach will enable what is usually considered a short life battery, compared to NiMH, to last the life of the vehicle. And because lead acid is such a relatively cheap and well-established technology, the company feels this too will also help bring down the overall cost of the system.
He added that, "One of the aspects about lead-acid [that] is very beneficial [compared to] other electrochemical devices that have limitations in terms of their power density or efficiency or temperature relations in terms of high power at low temperature or the ability to take charge at high temperature. None of those really are a problem with lead-acid. It is very friendly to those conditions. It's one of the reasons why it's been around so long starting cars out in the cold and running in high temperatures. It is very capable of doing that.
While lead-acid tends to weigh more than other advanced battery options, Louckes argues that there is only a slight weigh gain. He notes that when you take into account the weight savings of using a smaller gasoline engine, and the savings associated with removing the transmission and in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, the transfer case, the net weight gain is "somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-125 pounds."
He added that this allows for improved weight distribution in the vehicle and helps lower the center of gravity, something that high CG vehicles like SUVs can benefit from.
"We have better vehicle dynamics, in general," he stated. Such hybridization, he believes, improves a vehicle's performance, handling and traction capability.
Paice's Business Model
"Our business model is exemplified [by] a major change going on in the industry," Louckes told EV World. "There is more and more responsibility for the system going to the supplier community, particularly the Tier One suppliers.
"The core business of the automobile company is very different then when I started over 50 years ago. Now their core business is making bodies and, essentially, power trains and little else.
"So what we need from them is a selection of one of their menu of engines that best suits our particular application, or maybe modified slightly to optimize it. In many cases, we prefer a much smaller engine and turbo charger [that can be] controlled by our system, which is very beneficial. It's one of the patents we have."
Louckes explained that either the auto manufacturer or Tier One supplier - - several of whom he said are working with Paice - - would then build the hybrid drive unit that consists of the power electronics, high voltage controller, clutch and electric motor under the direction of Paice. The system's power electronics would be built by companies like Visteon, Delphi or Bosch. The 48-volt batteries would come from one of several manufacturers who have expressed interest in developing Paice's design.
The high-power AC induction motor housed in what the company calls the "motor amplification module" will also be shopped out to appropriate suppliers.
"Our main trust is to make the electronic controls, the brains of this thing, and how it talks to all these components and makes them operate like a system. We're the orchestra leader. We're going to be up there waving a baton making everybody play the right tune."
"What we've put together is a consortium of Tier One suppliers to work with the OEM and us to make the system all come together. Various suppliers will sell the components for part of our system. They're all designed specifically for that application and then they will all come together and be assembled by the automobile company for their vehicle when they put it together."
PART TWO CONTINUED NEXT WEEK . . .
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