Saviors or Snake Oil Salesmen?

A Russian inventor and a Detroit veteran claim their hybrid drive system can do the impossible: drastically cut emissions, improve performance, and increase fuel economy without adding significant cost or weight to a vehicle. Plus, they say, their “power amplified internal combustion engine” does so without resorting to exotic materials or unproven technology.

A Cadillac DeVille that accelerates from 0-60 mph in five seconds, maintains a 120-mph top speed, and has half the fuel consumption of the current model? Yeah, right. How possible is that?

According to Ted Louckes, chief operating officer of Paice Corporation, former Oldsmobile chief engineer and father of the company’s Quad 4 engine, it’s very possible. Plus, he claims it can be done without resorting to heavy doses of “unobtanium” or other exotic materials.

“We can do this with today’s technology,” Louckes says confidently.

The technology has been uniquely combined to create a hybrid drive system dubbed “Hyperdrive” by company founder and CEO Dr. Alex Severinsky. It eliminates the need for a transmission in all but the heaviest vehicles–those over 20,000 lb.–by utilizing high-power semiconductors, a high-voltage electrical system, and a high-horsepower induction motor combined with an optimized (and downsized) internal combustion engine.

To hear the Russian-born Severinsky tell it, the idea behind Hyperdrive is fairly simple. “At its core, this is like the uninterruptible power supply on your computer. There’s a charger, battery, inverter, bypass switch, and–in the case of power failure–you connect the engine to provide power. The big difference is that the load on the system isn’t a disc drive, but a motor driving the wheels.” (For a closer look at how Hyperdrive works, see “Hyperdrive Exposed!”)

Severinsky’s initial idea for Hyperdrive came as he looked into ways to improve the utilization efficiency of internal combustion engines in 1979. Because engines are typically sized to meet acceleration targets, they often operate at a load level that diminishes brake specific fuel consumption. Severinsky saw there was no way to mechanically alter this fact without harming performance, and decided to attack the problem from another direction. He quickly deduced it would be possible to use a powerful electric motor to provide the torque necessary for near-instant acceleration, either from a standing start or on the road. However, the high-voltage semiconductors that would be necessary to drive the relatively inexpensive electric motor were scarce and priced accordingly at the time.

“At peak power,” says Severinsky, “we go as high as 100 kW for, maybe, 30 seconds to make the car perform. That is our peak requirement. No one had semiconductors that could handle high voltage and low current at the time, and without them, this system would be uneconomical.” Undeterred and encouraged by work undertaken by General Electric on Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors (IGBT) in the early 1990s, Severinsky formed Paice Corporation in 1992, and began working in earnest on his hybrid drive idea. The IGBTs would finally allow him to determine whether or not his idea would work as planned; they became economical in 1998, the year Ted Louckes joined the firm.

Tests and computer models notwithstanding, Severinsky admits, “We have been met by a high degree of cynicism from the automakers,” a fact that didn’t surprise Louckes at all. Recalling his time at GM, Louckes says, “Over the years, I had a lot of snake oil salesmen come through the door. It’s accepted in the industry that hybrids are environmental band aids and economic disasters. Then here we come along claiming to have solved these problems with no significant cost increase.”

Making Hyperdrive cost neutral involved reallocating materials common to high-volume vehicle production to new uses. In short, the aluminum, iron, copper, and steel scavenged from the downsized engine and elimination of the transmission are put into the traction motor and lead-acid battery pack. Four-wheel-drive vehicles jettison the front driveshaft and transfer case, and replace them with an electrically driven axle.

“The batteries are dispersed modules of 24 2-volt cells held in a self-contained casing,” says Louckes, “and these are connected in series to reach the desired voltage.” An intermediate-size car would require 12 modules (576 volts), while a larger car would need 16 (768 volts). Pickups and SUVs would require 20 modules (960 volts). All would meet or exceed current performance targets at these voltage levels. Each module is approximately 12-in. long, 6-in. tall, 6-in. wide, weighs approximately 25 lb. and mounts low in the vehicle. The battery cells are self-contained, have their own thermal controls, and utilize a UL-approved open relay. This means there is no load on the system during service or in an accident. In addition, the terminals are hidden, and the modules watertight. A proprietary electronic controller uses a LAN-like twisted wire connector to watch each battery individually and react if there is trouble.

The Hyperdrive’s unique power application means simplicity is more important than complexity when it comes to things like accessories, accessory drives, and engine design. “We don’t use the engine to drive the air conditioning compressor, power steering pump, or to provide vacuum for the braking system,” says Louckes. Instead, Hyperdrive uses an AC motor to drive the engine accessories. For the air conditioning system, this means a smaller compressor can be driven at a constant speed, which eliminates the on-off cycling found in current systems. Similarly, a constant-speed pump provides boost for the power steering, another is used in the braking system, and a small resistance-type heating unit supplements the heater. “All of the accessories–including the water pump–can be driven off a single AC motor, which eliminates the need for the belt drive on the front of the engine and the parasitic losses that come with it,” says Louckes.

With this design, automakers can offer a “smart start” system where the car is pre-heated or pre-cooled. Pre-heating also improves emissions performance. “Because we can predict when we are going to have to start the engine,” says Louckes, “this allows us to preheat the catalyst, warm the combustion chamber, and run the engine on a lean fuel mixture, which drastically reduces emissions and oil contamination,” says Louckes. Average oil life for Hyperdrive-equipped vehicles should rise to 20,000 miles, while engine designs become less complex.

As you might suspect, Hyperdrive uses a small, turbocharged internal combustion engine (gas or diesel). Unusually, the computer controller leaves the turbo’s wastegate open most of the time. “Since we don’t have any dynamic requirements,” says Louckes, “we use the computer to close it only when necessary. This lets us keep the turbo spinning, and run a higher compression ratio than normal for a turbo engine.”

Now that the preliminary work is out of the way, the next hurdle for Louckes and Severinsky is to take Hyperdrive into low-volume production. Within two years, a production-intent prototype is planned, to be followed by another two years of readying it for production. “That will allow us to reduce risks by fixing any problems that arise in service without taking down an automaker’s entire fleet in a massive recall,” says Louckes. This step should be completed, he says, by 2005.


Hyperdrive Exposed!

Around town, a Hyperdrive-equipped vehicle is as electrically driven as GM’s EV1. When the charge drops, however, the electronic control unit–which monitors performance every 10 milliseconds and predicts when the internal combustion engine will be needed–starts the engine to recharge the battery pack. According to tests conducted on a proof-of-concept unit, and correlated with hybrid drive models, the engine will be used just twice on the Federal Urban Driving Cycle test to recharge the batteries before shutting down again.

When speed increases to the point where road load is equal to 30% to 50% of the engine’s torque (about 30 mph), the system transitions out of full-electric operation. The clutch between the engine and traction motor is engaged, and electric motor used for bursts of acceleration.

Test results replicating the road and aerodynamic load of a Hyperdrive-equipped large luxury car produced hydrocarbon levels of 0.002 grams/mile, carbon monoxide levels of 0.06 grams/mile, and oxides of nitrogen levels of 0.02 grams per mile. This compares favorably with current SULEV (super-ultra-low emission vehicle) standards of 0.01, 1.0, and 0.02 grams/mile, respectively.

Fuel economy numbers are equally impressive. Paice claims this same vehicle would return 38 mpg on the city cycle, 54 mpg on the highway cycle, and have an average fuel economy rating of 44 mpg. This compares to 19, 33, and 24 mpg for its conventionally powered counterpart. Paice predicts even greater percentage gains in light trucks and SUVs.

Modes of operation
In the city, or stop-and-go driving, Hyperdrive relies on the battery pack and electric motor, using the internal combustion engine as a recharging unit. At cruising speed, it runs off the internal combustion engine alone, with the electric motor providing a boost under acceleration.