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Hyliion Inc.’s Class 8 long-range electric powertrain underscores the transition period of multiple alternative powertrains is at hand. And the powertrain, whose batteries are charged by an undersized natural gas engine, could prove to be an important step toward carbon-free over-the-road transportation, experts said.
“We are in the messy middle,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency.
The messy middle, as defined by NACFE in a December report, is a period of transition where there will be many optimized solutions, multiple fuel choices, growing infrastructure, more innovation and maturation, where facts replace estimates. NACFE forecasts this period will accelerate between 2030 and 2040.
“There is much less to develop here, given proven CNG engines, fueling infrastructure available, and the electric hybrid elements brought by Hyliion. So a timetable [of 2022 for production] is doable,” Roeth said.
“What this product does is show you can take a [over-the-road] vehicle, and if you are fueling with renewable natural gas, you are virtually ensuring you have a carbon-free result,” said Daniel Gage, president of NVGAmerica, which has 200 members promoting the use of natural gas and biomethane as transportation fuels.
“If this technology proves accurate in real-life testing with payloads, it certainly could be a unique option for a lot of folks,” he added.
Thomas Healy, the founder and CEO of Hyliion, used to feel like he was on the sidelines of trucking’s electric playing field, but not anymore after the company announced in June its fully electric Class 8 powertrain, which promises a range of 1,000 miles in between refueling with natural gas at a network of 700 existing public stations. That would be more range than stated for battery-electric trucks preparing for production at Tesla and Nikola Corp., which is also developing a regional haul hydrogen fuel cell Class 8 and the needed fueling infrastructure.
In the meantime, Healy’s company stands to gain $560 million after its merger with publicly traded Tortoise Acquisition Corp., expected to be completed before the end of the third quarter. The merged organization will be Hyliion Holdings Corp.
We’re excited to introduce Hyliion’s Hypertruck Electric Range Extender (ERX) with our launch partner @Agility. Our fully electric, long-haul powertrain solution for Class 8 vehicles offers critical cost savings and low emissions to the trucking industry. https://t.co/6BcWREllh0— Hyliion (@hyliion) June 25, 2020
Demand for its earlier hybrid electric axle is building, Healy said, and its partnership with Dana Inc., a Tier 1 supplier, is expanding.
Hyliion calls its longhaul, fully electric powertrain the Hypertruck Electric Range Extender (ERX). Fleet demonstration vehicles will ship in 2021, with volume production scheduled in 2022, according to the Austin, Texas-based company founded in 2015.
“What I didn’t want to do is tell the industry we were going to go do something and not have the capital to go do it. That is why we announced the funding and the powertrain right after that,” Healy said.
Logistics provider Agility placed pre-orders for up to 1,000 trucks equipped with the ERX powertrain. With the ERX platform, under the hood of any Class 8 model from any truck maker is a downsized natural gas-fueled engine with a generator to charge the batteries as you go, he said. Dana is supplying the inverter and electric motors to drive the rear axles.
“We are becoming a full powertrain provider and will work with the existing truck makers to deliver a powertrain in their truck as opposed to taking the Nikola and Tesla approach of developing the full vehicle from the ground up,” Healy said. “We are going to leverage Dana’s manufacturing facilities in order to actually assemble our Hypertruck product. Then ship it directly to the modification centers or the truck makers right from Dana’s facilities to be installed on a brand new truck.”
We’re excited to be working with @hyliion as they launch the #Hypertruck ERX. The #technology gives us a triple win: Protect the #environment, keep customers happy & benefit shareholders by improving bottom line. Read more about how we’re working together: https://t.co/AtZV10My8j— Agility (@Agility) June 26, 2020
The powertrain produces electricity at roughly 30% less than the average grid cost, which yields a seven-year cost-of-ownership unmatched by any diesel, battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell Class 8 truck under development, the company noted in a release.
The powertrain also will provide 25 miles of pure electric vehicle range in cities adopting zero-emission zones. The vehicle’s low carbon footprint is further enhanced by the system’s machine-learning algorithm, which optimizes energy efficiency, emissions, performance and predictive maintenance schedules.
Exciting news from @hyliion! Proud to support the industry-changing Hypertruck ERX featuring our electric motor, inverter & axle. Dana plans to provide its state-of-the-art mfg capabilities for full volume production of Hyliion powertrain systems. https://t.co/TMiDfPi82q pic.twitter.com/1rVKZEAY2j— Dana Incorporated (@DanaInc_) June 25, 2020
Healy said anyone, including startups, that is working on fuel-saving, emission-saving technologies benefits everyone. “That’s a huge win not only for the industry, but for our society as a whole. If we can reduce the emission levels, it is going to improve the lives of all of us.”
All of the software modules and efficiency-improving algorithms Hyliion developed on the hybrid [axle] product carry forward on the Hypertruck as well, he said. “The foundational software platform allows us to continue iterating and improving the product on both.”
Meanwhile, the cost of natural gas as a fuel is less than diesel or hydrogen, and the powertrain can run on renewable natural gas, he added.
By leveraging renewable natural gas, it “actually allows a net carbon-negative emissions profile for the truck,” Healy said.
RNG is primarily methane from decomposing organic matter. Using methane as a fuel reduces its presence as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
Gage said 39% of all on-road compressed natural gas used in 2019 was RNG. In 2018 it was 34%.
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