Hymotion's Plug-n-Play Hybrids
By Bill Moore
The timing was, indeed, "absolutely perfect" for Ontario-based Hymotion to debut its own version of not one, but two plug-in hybrids: a Toyota Prius and a Ford Escape Hybrid.
Now to be precisely accurate, the Escape on display at the recent Toronto Auto Show didn't actually have a working plug-in battery module. Hymotion is still waiting on the 12kW/hrs of lithium-ion cells from an unnamed manufacturer, though my guess would be my friends at Electrovaya. But the smaller, 5kWh module in the Toyota Prius does work, according to Ricardo "Rick" Bazzarella, a native of Brazil who immigrated to Canada with his parents when he was a teenager.
A graduate of Waterloo University with a degree in mechanical engineering, Bazzarella's first job was with Orion Bus Industries where he designed power trains and alternative fuel systems. He later took a job in California with what would soon become Quantum Technologies -- one of the handful of firms making high-pressure, carbon composite fuel storage tanks for alternative fuels including hydrogen -- designing CNG and propane fuel systems.
A marriage and a child later, Bazzarella moved his new family back to Canada and went to work for "a major fuel cell manufacturer in Ontario", which in all likelihood was probably Hydrogenics.
"Working on a fuel cell, I really saw the fuel cell as the perfect engine. The technology is great. The problem with the fuel cell is not only the hydrogen but the infrastructure is just not there yet." He and his colleagues began to realize that rather than fuel cell vehicles being viable by 2010, it would take longer. This spurred a conversation with an associate about hybrid-electric technology and the decision to start their own company.
After what he calls months of discussion, they identified plug-in hybrids as the solution they were looking for.
Today, Hymotion consists of Bazzarella, his co-founder Akos Toth, and their financial advisor in Boston, Anthony Wei. They also work closely with a Concord, Ontario engineering team whose background is BMW racing in North America. They also have several other specialists on contract.
"We're looking for bright engineers right now," he said. Hymotion jointly engineered the fuel cell ICEBEAR, the world's first hydrogen-powered ice rink resurfacing machine, for ePower Synergies. Hymotion had a mere two months to complete the project in time for a conference in North Dakota hosted by U.S. Senate Byron Dorgan. The ICEBEAR was also on display at the EDTA winter conference in Vancouver.
Hymotion isn't yet a year old, having been started in June, 2005, but they've certainly made a splash, at least in the media. Their roll-out at the Toronto Auto Show came on the heels of the Plug-In Partner's press conference the week before and the U.S. president's State of the Union address in which he also mentioned plug-in hybrid technology as a means of helping end America's "oil addiction".
Similar to its rapid prototyping of the ICEBEAR, Hymotion has in less some eight month's time developed a compact module set that incorporates the lithium ion batteries, the charger, computer controller, battery monitoring system, along with a safety fuse and inertia cut-off switch to prevent high-voltage shocks during servicing or an accident.
In Bazzarella's words, it's engineered to be a "plug-n-play" system that he estimates will eventually take only two hours to install.
Hymotion keeps the current Prius battery.
"It's almost like a range extender. You‘re adding that to the vehicle without removing anything".
During EV-only operation, the car runs solely off of Hymotion's battery back. Once that is depleted, the car then automatically switches to the normal Prius system. Bazzarella and his colleagues have tied their battery monitoring system into the Prius display. The state-of-charge (SOC) that the driver sees initially will be for the Hymotion module. Once the car switches back to the Prius battery, its SOC is then depicted.
Bazzarella estimates the 5kWh lithium-ion module will deliver about 50km (31 miles) of electric-only driving range. The much larger 12kWh module in development for the Escape Hybrid is expected to provide some 80km (49 miles) range, due largely to it being a heavier, less aerodynamic machine.
When I asked him about the engineering problems between the two vehicles, he responded that while their power trains are somewhat similar, their different weight classes meant that the Escape had to have a lot more power than the Prius. He also noted that the Prius' computer control system was a lot more complex than on the Escape and proved more challenging to get into.
While the Escape is still awaiting its batteries, Hymotion is now converting its second Prius which it'll use to run durability tests. The Prius module sits in a well below below the rear cargo deck so it takes up no space inside the cabin area. In the case of the Escape Hybrid, because no similar well exists and the company didn't want to place the packs underneath vehicle where it would be exposed to dust and water, Hymotion is going to mount the module in a vertical position behind the rear passenger seat. It takes away some space in the cargo area, but it'll mean the module will last longer.
Hymotion's marketing plan is to initially sell units to fleets, including municipal governments, corporations and utilities. The purpose of this approach is to allow the company to more closely monitor the performance of the modules, as well as make servicing of the units easier.
After this, Bazzarella wants to get third-party testing and verification before offering the modules to consumers, whom he sees as benefiting for these tests, as well as the resulting improvements in engineering that he expects will enhance durability, reliability and reduce the parts count, and thereby the price.
He expects -- depending on the availability of the batteries -- to reach this last stage in as little as six to eight months. In fact, the batteries are -- as always -- the key. Bazzarella pointed out that the company will have to warranty the system and that he is currently in negotiation with the manufacturer on these liability issues.
Hymotion has announced fleet pricing for the Prius module at $9,500US. He's also aiming to have consumer version sell for around $6,500US. Installation will be included in the price.
To learn more about Hymotion's technology and their marketing plans be sure to listen to this 25-minute audio in its entirety. You can either use the Flash-based MP3 player above, or you may download the file to your computer hard drive for playback on your favorite MP3 device.