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Hyperdrive for a New Millennium

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The Nuts and Bolts of it

Existing drivetrains use a large internal combustion engine, a transmission, electric starter, alternator and a small lead-acid battery. The Hyperdrive takes most of these components and rearranges them, Severinsky said.

With Hyperdrive, the IC engine is downsized. A Computer Aided Design (CAD) shows Paice could replace a V-10 engine capable of powering a rear-drive van such as Ford's
Econoline, with an inline four-cylinder engine. A "power amplifier" would replace the transmission.

The amplifier includes an enlarged starter motor that becomes the traction motor, with starting and acceleration power. The alternator, that acts as starter, charges the battery pack. A clutch assembly allows the power amplifier to alternate between two hybrid modes, with the IC engine off or engaged. The IC engine operates during normal highway driving. Jatco, a Nissan subsidiary in California, is working on the power amplifier's clutch assembly and is developing continuously variable transmission parts.

With Hyperdrive, a larger battery acts as a specialized power system, with each 2-volt cell placed in several 48-volt modules in the battery pack. Electric charges are equalized to sustain battery life. "We are also working with three premier (battery) cell makers - one in the United States and two in Japan - to design the battery pack," Adamson said. The secret?

Keep batteries near a 70 percent charge and discharge them to about 60 percent before the IC engine begins to slowly recharge up to 70 percent. Once a month, the battery pack is fully recharged.

"It's all about battery life. Our informal objective is to get to 120,000 miles of battery life and we know that we are well within the state of the art. We may achieve 200,000 miles or
we may fall short," he added.

Adamson recalled a 10-year-old Australian study showing lead acid batteries can be recharged for 5,500 cycles without a depreciation in capacity. A recent European car company consortium showed lead acid batteries can discharge by 5 percent for 57,000 cycles without deterioration, suggesting Paice's objectives are obtainable. He said the Paice system can change the industry because it offers a replacement for engine displacement.

Other potential features on a Hyperdrive vehicle would be: regenerative brakes, to capture energy that's normally lost as heat (similar to the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius); smaller catalytic converters that are preheated before the IC engine is turned on to reduce emissions; fewer oil changes because of the way the IC engine is used; and a smaller radiator. Vehicle designs could be more flexible. And the center of gravity on SUVs could be lowered, for example, depending upon where the battery pack was placed.

A car equipped with the Hyperdrive's high voltage system could be pre-programmed to heat or cool the interior before the driver needs it. Because of its high energy output, even major appliances such as a microwave oven could tap into its power. It could produce enough electricity to run two or three homes during a power outage or to operate power tools at a construction site.

Marketing a "Gee Whiz" Future

Paice's plan is to work with global auto makers, but remain a supplier, according to Adamson. Paice is in discussions with some Tier One firms needed to make parts.

"Paice will license our intellectual property to the supplier community...and we will be developing the Paice control module, which contains our software, our logic and our
algorithms," Adamson said. "The module will speak to all of the various components and tell them how to behave."

Paice's technology is covered by five patents - three issued and two pending - and the company is working on other technology it soon will patent. Louckes said a Hyperdrive prototype car could be on the road in two years with a production vehicle following a year to 18 months later if an automaker committed to the technology.

But even if Paice's technology seems to be in the right place at the right time to meet the American auto industry's needs, will the car companies accept it?

This is a critical time for the automotive industry, Adamson said. Legislators in Washington D.C. are talking of hiking the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards,
although the industry got a temporary reprieve recently. Meanwhile, environmental regulations in the U.S. and Europe are tightening to protect against global climate changes from carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels. "Technology that can resolve these problems, which has been invented in America, should be used here first," Templin said.

Louckes said the American auto industry sometimes suffers from a "Not Invented Here" syndrome, and it's difficult to get companies to accept new technologies they haven't created.
Foreign competitors, with greater fuel economy concerns at home, have been more willing to take such risks.

"The fundamental issue in the auto industry today has been to fine-tune existing technology (the internal combustion engine) with a 42-volt electrical system and the CVT," Templin said. "While the Paice approach doesn't require any new technology, it does require implementation and taking resources away from other programs. That's the sticky point that one or more companies would have to get through. They would have to stop doing things that they are now, where they already have a very strong technical and emotional commitment and (start) believing in something that is a new paradigm. That's not an easy process."

The Hyperdrive could make other auto technologies and even some manufacturing facilities obsolete, say company officials. Because of its high voltage, it could make the new 42-volt electrical system under development unnecessary. Continuously variable transmissions wouldn't be needed (potentially outdating a Ford joint venture with Germany's ZF Group to develop them, for example). Entire parts of four-wheel- and all-wheel-drive systems could be removed from vehicles, their work replaced by the Hyperdrive's power amplifier. And entire parts plants would have to be retooled or might even become unnecessary.

GM, which has pushed Congress to ease diesel fuel restrictions, recently unveiled a fuel cell vehicle that reforms gasoline on-board. Fuel cells are seen as the industry's long-term direction to replace ICs, with hybrids a probable transition. Severinsky said the Hyperdrive is flexible enough to be adapted for fuel cell vehicles. "It doesn't matter if the fuel cell replaces the internal combustion engine," Severinsky said. "Our system can use it."

Here or There?

What's the best market potential for Hyperdrive? Ironically it might be in Asia, according to Paice. Europeans are heavily into perfecting more fuel efficient, longer lived diesel engines. But Japan's Honda and Toyota have been first to adopt hybrid technology as commercially viable vehicles, said Spinella.

Cole noted that Ford has two hybrid sport utilities on the horizon. "With multinational companies that operate across national boundaries as if they don't exist, it really doesn't matter where Paice's technology is first implemented,"
he said. "The marketplace will select the best place for any technological application."

Pollution-wise, if the auto industry's whole fleet of new vehicles produced used Hyperdrive, it would be the equivalent of taking 95 percent of today's vehicles off the road, according to Templin. "It has so much potential for improving the car, from cost reductions to emissions reductions to improving fuel economy, that it will turn automotive engineering upside-down," he predicted.

Transforming technologies have caught on quickly before, said Templin. When electronic fuel injection was introduced by Cadillac, the industry adopted it in worldwide in four years. "I predict the same thing will happen with (Hyperdrive) because who could compete against it? Who could sell a vehicle (that gets) 15 mpg when a competitor is selling one for 30?"

Can Paice's patents stand up to legal challenges and financial and political the pressures from competitors? Paice is not patenting the idea of a hybrid powertrain, but a computer controller and the software needed to make the system work to its maximum efficiency, said Severinsky.

Templin added that Paice's patent protection is very good. "Our fundamentals are very strong. We researched that issue very thoroughly and our patents are available for licensing. If someone wants to go around them, they are welcome to try, but the cost and the effort to do that might be very difficult." License fees have not yet been determined, but will be aimed at recouping millions of dollars spent on development, he said.

Hyperdrive could be a boon to oil companies as well, because it could bring down the cost of fuel, said Templin. "The oil companies won't have to build more refineries, it will cut evaporative loss in half and they won't need to make (specialized) 'boutique' fuels."

A Backdoor Downside

While the Hyperdrive would be beneficial to consumers buying new vehicles, it could devastate the residual values of older ones and depress the value of competitors' products that were not as fuel efficient, said Tom Webb, chief economist for Manheim Auctions. "Anytime you're able to introduce a new product that is both cheaper and better than the previous generation, it always depresses the prices of the used product," he said.

Auto leasing and used car industries already are squeezed on the value of their used vehicles as auto makers put more attractive new equipment on their cars, without increasing costs, Webb said. With the Paice technology on vehicles in,
say, three to five years, used car residuals would fall even more, he added.

But "from a customer standpoint, though, any technology that doubles fuel economy and cuts emissions would be great."

CNW's Spinella said a successful Hyperdrive could revolutionize the industry. "Any company that could use it - and competitors don't - could effectively collect as large of
a share of the market as they wanted," he said.

During a century of auto production, only a few products such as Ford's Mustang (selling a million units its first year) have radically changed the industry, said Spinella. Alternative fuel vehicles haven't revolutionized it yet, and he doubts the Hyperdrive could within five years.

According to Paice's Polletta, one consideration gaining attention since the recent terrorist attacks is the possibility of using the Hyperdrive to power the military's next generation of heavy duty transport vehicles. Most hybrid vehicles can't carry troops while towing a large weight. But the Paice system could power a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight close to 17,000 pounds.

"Our system," he added, "has many significant advantages for the military."

- Joe Cabadas

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