EXCLUSIVE: Canadian tech company designs waste heat recovery-powered APU

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BOLTON, Ont. — As engine manufacturers look to improve the efficiency of their products to comply with impending fuel economy standards, one of the obvious advancements to explore is waste heat recovery; harnessing wasted energy produced by the inherently inefficient internal combustion engine.

It’s estimated that as much as 30% of the energy produced by a diesel engine is lost through the tailpipe in the form of heat.

Several engine manufacturers have hinted they are working on waste heat recovery systems that will capture that wasted energy and then use it to power certain aspects of the truck, however such systems are still in the early stages of development. A small Canadian firm, meanwhile, has quietly designed a fully functioning auxiliary power unit (APU) powered solely by waste heat recovery, capable of providing heating, cooling and hotel load power for up to 10 hours without any fuel consumption.

It’s also able to provide heating and cooling while the truck is in motion, providing fuel savings and eliminating the need for an AC compressor.

Trucknews.com is the first trucking news outlet to see the Hyper (Hybrid Power and Energy Recovery) storage system at work, at developer EnerMotion’s modest lab in Bolton, Ont. The project has been kept under wraps while all the necessary patents were filed by global legal giant Norton Rose. Now with the muscle of one of the world’s largest patent protection law firms behind it, EnerMotion president and CEO Jack MacDonnell is able to openly discuss the project. His excitement is palpable as he describes the system.

“Several of the OEMs are looking at waste heat recovery technology and have been for a year or so, but we’ve been developing this system for a number of years now, so we believe we are ahead of the curve,” MacDonnell told Trucknews.com.

MacDonnell assembled the team that would be responsible for the design of the system in 2007 and incorporated the company in 2008, just as oil prices were hitting record highs. Last summer, EnerMotion received a $1 million grant from Sustainable Development Technologies Canada and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund has since come to the table with some additional financing. Meanwhile, some of the first Canadian fleets to see the system at work have also come on-board; and they include some of the more sustainability-minded and technically-savvy companies in the business; not the types to be enamored by an unproven or implausible technology.

MacDonnell said JD Smith and Sons was so impressed, it has purchased a stake in the company, donated a truck for test trials and is eager to take delivery of the first field trial unit in the coming weeks. Challenger Motor Freight, Kriska Transportation and Loblaw have also committed to field-testing the system, MacDonnell added.

The premise behind the Hyper system is simple, even if the technology itself is not. MacDonnell describes it this way: “If you think of a bar fridge at the cottage; you plug it in and it runs a refrigeration cycle. That’s what we’re doing; we’re driving a refrigeration cycle without plugging into the wall. We’re using high temperatures to pressurize the system. There’s high-grade heat in those big diesel motors, anywhere from 300-800 degrees C. We just pull that heat out and drive this refrigeration cycle and we drive the heat cycle too. We massage those thermal conditions and store them – either hot or cold – and we can store 5 kWh of energy within an hour of running this system.”

Importantly, that’s enough to provide long-haul drivers with a full 10-hour rest cycle of heating, cooling and hotel load power without having to burn any fuel, MacDonnell noted. The driver uses the existing HVAC controls, as the unit is integrated with the truck’s existing dials and ducting. Regional fleets such as Loblaw and JD Smith and Sons are interested, he added, because their drivers can keep the cab comfortable without idling while waiting to load or unload.

Based on metrics collected by EnerMotion and then supported by Canadian fleets, the company is expecting to reduce fuel consumption by 9% with its system, providing a payback in less than a year – as long as it works, that is. And proving its reliability in the field is the next step for the developer.

“We’re entering the demonstration phase, which is to validate the metrics we have on paper with real road trials and also to put it into different drive cycle environments,” MacDonnell said. “We’ve been simulating this thing but it’s one thing in the lab and a different thing out on the road.”

EnerMotion has been running its own trials on a 2003 International with a C12 Cat engine with 435 hp. So far, so good, the company claims.

“From an engineering perspective, it’s now all about scaling components down,” MacDonnell explained. “Some of the components are over-engineered right now; they’re heavy and some are bulky. I don’t want to blow smoke out in the industry and say this is ready for prime time right now, but by the same token we can’t wait any longer.”

MacDonnell realizes that with engine manufacturers developing waste heat recovery systems of their own, they’ll soon be competing for the same lost energy. But he’s comfortable with the patent protection his company has secured and wants to licence the technology to the OEs in addition to offering the system as an aftermarket solution.

“We want to partner with these guys and licence the technology to them,” he said. “We have resisted the urge to knock on their doors until we have some units out there. The time is now to tell them what we’re doing, we have to get out there and expose ourselves because we’ve been flying under the radar for too long.”

The prototype system is similar to a trailer refrigeration unit in size and shape, and is mounted to the back of the cab. It weighs about the same as a diesel-powered APU and contains no moving parts. The thermal storage unit boasts a higher energy density than lithium-ion batteries, MacDonnell noted.  

“The system ties into the stock exhaust,” Dave Gibbs, director of technological development, explained during a demonstration. “We capture some of that thermal energy and use it to drive our system, providing heating and cooling to the occupants both while the truck is in motion and while at rest. You no longer need to turn a mechanical air-conditioning compressor, because the system will do the cooling while you drive. It makes no noise and the driver doesn’t have to do anything. It’s a very simple and very elegant system.”

With 20 units set to be deployed with some big name fleets across various duty cycles, MacDonnell figures it’ll be 12-18 months before the Hyper system is launched commercially. Meanwhile, the company is also studying other applications, such as using the same technology to refrigerate trailers. MacDonnell is understandably excited to get the message out.

“Nobody’s doing this anywhere in the world,” he told Trucknews.com. “There are some industrial applications but nobody is doing it at this scale and nobody is doing hot and cold and storing it so it runs itself in an autonomous mode as ours does.”

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  • Wow that sounds like it has promise and Canadian too! Let’s go with those increased length rules though, things like this will make a bit more wheelbase a must.

  • It’s great to see forward thinking companys like this in our own backyard. I hope the politicians and private investors alike properly support these guys and help to quickly bring this technology to our industry. We are in need of a product like this to help our bottom line. – will help with air quality too!

  • If trucknews can keep us posted on this product. Hope they can see it thru, definitly look like a very good unit in the making, good job Enermotion.