While hybrid cars play a small role in reducing fuel consumption and harmful tailpipe emissions, center leaders say the use of hybrid commercial vehicles will make a "major dent" in the two measurements. H3CoE Co-director Maryam Saeedifard says the growth of e-commerce is one phenomenon causing the number of trucks on the road to skyrocket.
"It's estimated one hybrid bus can save as much fuel as 40 hybrid cars," says Saeedifard. "Busses, trucks and commercial vehicles represent a huge percentage of global fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions."
Supported by the recent grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Graduate Automotive Technology Education initiative, the center's five-year goal is to reduce commercial vehicle fuel consumption by 50 percent. Center leaders say such a reduction would cut petroleum use by about 15 billion gallons per year and eliminate 155 million tons of carbon dioxide.
However, the challenges that surround the development of commercial hybrid vehicles are significant. One major obstacle is determining how to better integrate the various components in the powertrain, including the engine, transmission and electrical systems. Saeedifard says that's a major reason why the center has formed partnerships with Hoosier electric vehicle component manufacturers, including Cummins, Delphi and Allison Transmission.
"Some of the challenges are almost the same for medium and heavy duty hybrid vehicles as hybrid cars, but some of them are very unique," says Saeedifard. "We want to investigate the research topics that have direct relevance to industry."
The center is also partnering with the state's clean energy initiative Energy Systems Network (ESN), which formed the Hoosier Heavy Hybrid (HHH) partnership among Indiana manufacturers in 2009. ESN President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Mitchell says HHH is "very successful," noting project participants Allison, Remy and Delphi collectively earned more than $200 million in federal stimulus funds earmarked for vehicle electrification. Listen
"[HHH] focused originally on the business-to-business relationships among Indiana component manufacturers; frankly, we hadn't really pulled in the universities until this more recent activity," says Mitchell. "Adding in the university component—which enhances the research and talent development aspects—will strengthen this Hoosier partnership in a significant way." Listen
Mitchell believes the Purdue center will also swell the pipeline of white collar engineers trained in vehicle electrification to fuel growth at Hoosier companies involved in the industry. H3CoE will include research fellowships for up to eight graduate students. Saeedifard says the fellowships will be competitive and include students from various disciplines, such as mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering.
"We keep hearing from industry that there is a significant shortage of engineers in [hybrid technology]. We are hoping to address that issue," says Saeedifard. "The progress of technology has been promising, but there are still some gaps and technical challenges that need to be addressed. One objective of this center is to train, educate and equip the next generation of research scientists and engineers to address those technical challenges to fill the gaps." Listen
Supported by up and coming industry experts, center leaders believe the project will be able to tackle the roadblocks that have prevented wide-scale deployment of cost effective and highly-efficient hybrid commercial trucks and busses in the U.S. and around the globe.
"The whole state should see this center as another arrow in our quiver in the effort to be a leader in advanced hybrid technology for light duty—and now heavy duty—vehicles as well." Listen