XL Hybrids is a company out of Boston that, right there on their homepage, will promise a 20 percent reduction in urban fuel consumption. The business media is on board: Fast Company just had them as the third-most innovative energy company in the world (behind Tesla and GE, which is fairly nice company to be in), and the 35th most innovative company overall (that seems hard to rank, but OK). What do they do, essentially? They take older vans and trucks and retro-fit them with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery, essentially making them into hybrids. If gas prices stay in normal ranges, the work pays for itself in about 2-3 years. Since 2013, they added Coca-Cola and Fed-Ex as major clients and their revenue went up twenty-fold. They’ve also partnered with Knapheide, which does a lot of van/truck service annually anyway. The retro-fitting process can simply be connected to the other work the truck is having done.
Since some are now claiming we’re in the “terminal stage” of our fossil fuel addiction (I would generally concur), the work of XL Hybrids is super important: they take some of the biggest gas-guzzlers out there — and gas-guzzlers that are consistently in use, because they transport commerce and services — and make them more effective in terms of the environment (yay for all) and the bottom line within 2-3 years (yay for the company). That’s the only type of set-up that’s going to help reduce emissions by the 40-70 percent we apparently need to reduce them by in the next 50-100 years; the company needs to feel it in their bottom line too. No company will do something simply for the environment; there has to be a bottom-line aspect to it. Sad but true.
XL Hybrids is a spin-out from MIT (a true center of innovation), as detailed here. Here’s a bit on how it all works:
“The goal is to reduce oil consumption with cost-effective electric drive technology, where fleets don’t need additional infrastructure and don’t need a large battery,” says Tod Hynes ’02, co-founding president of XL Hybrids and a lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
The system’s powertrain includes an electric traction motor, a lithium-ion battery, advanced power converters, and other connecting components that attach to the powertrains of traditional General Motors and Ford cargo, delivery, and shuttle vans, as well as cutaway trucks.
When the vehicles brake, a process known as “regenerative braking” captures the kinetic energy (usually dissipated as heat through friction) and converts it into electricity that charges the battery — which, in turn, releases the energy to the electric motor during acceleration.
Custom software reads the driver’s braking habits and optimizes the system. The startup also collects operational data from the vehicles to inform fleet managers of the best vehicles for the technology — usually ones traveling in the stop-and-go traffic of urban areas.
Here’s how the money side of it works:
Electric or hybrid fleet vehicles traditionally run on large batteries — sometimes more than 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in capacity — that cost upward of $40,000. XL Hybrids installs small, 1.8-kWh lithium-ion batteries that provide a 20 percent fuel savings, Hynes says.
To determine the extent of the savings, XL Hybrids conducted a dynamometer test, which involves running a vehicle on treadmill-like rollers to estimate fuel mileage in urban driving. They first ran a 5-ton vehicle through the test without XL Hybrids’ system and then with the system, observing a 21 percent savings.
With this savings, companies can expect to save 4,000 gallons of fuel over the life of an XL Hybrids system, Hynes says. Since the system costs $8,000, companies essentially pay $2 for each gallon saved. “Why pay $3 or $4 for a gallon, when you can pay $2 to save a gallon?” Hynes says.
Additional benefits to the system, Hynes says, include reducing brake wear and maintenance, and the time employees spend filling up at gas stations. Also, downsizing engines: An XL Hybrids electric motor adds torque to an existing powertrain, meaning a customer can reduce the size of the engine from, say, a 6-liter to a 4.8-liter, and get better acceleration — which can save hundreds or thousands of dollars upfront, Hynes says.
Cool. The big news in this space will always remain whether Tesla can make the electric car a day-to-day reality, but what XL Hybrids is doing is a great development in terms of reducing emissions from some of the larger fleets out there.