Wrightspeed Debuts New Turbine For Commercial Vehicles

Wrightspeed, best known for manufacturing aftermarket hybrid powertrains for commercial trucks, is adding a new turbine generator to its product line.

Named the Fulcrum, this 250-pound turbine generator will not be providing power directly to the vehicle’s wheels. Instead, the series hybrid system focuses solely on recharging the battery pack.

Turbines, mot unlike a helicopter’s engine in concept are naturally ultra low low emission. They are also fuel neutral, but have presented some challenges for hybrid applications in the past. Specifically, they struggle with efficiency at low speeds, making them a poor source for direct power.

Though their lightweight, minimal moving parts and efficient outputs are appealing, Wrightspeed CEO and founder Ian Wright said previous turbine designs – including by extension ones he had used – were problematic.

“Nobody had all the technology pieces lined up to make that work until now,” Wright said. “There hasn’t been a turbine-generator engine until now that sort of got over the tipping point in terms of cost and efficiency, power to weight, multi-fuel.”

Wrightspeed’s new Fulcrum, which took three years to complete, has a power-to-weight ratio of 750 W/kg. This is a vast improvement on the Capstone microturbine that Wrightspeed was using, which offered a power-to-weight ratio of 478 W/kg.

“The Fulcrum is approximately 1/10th the weight of its piston generator counterparts and it is designed to have a 10,000 hour lifetime,” explained Wrightspeed. “While piston generators rely on catalytic converters to reduce their emissions by 10 times to meet ever-increasing California Air Resources Board standards, the Fulcrum turbine generator is so much cleaner, that it meets emissions standards without adding to its weight and complexity.”

Designed and built in house, the 80-kilowatt Fulcrum uses a two-stage compression process. It can pair with any type of fuel system, including gasoline, biodiesel, compressed natural gas or even landfill gasses.

A) Range-extending generator; B) Battery; C) Extended battery life (cooling, software); D) Geared Traction Drive units; E) Fuel tank.

A) Range-extending generator; B) Battery; C) Extended battery life (cooling, software); D) Geared Traction Drive units; E) Fuel tank.

The new turbine is also compatible with Wrightspeed’s other commercial-grade products. These include the Route (a “plug and play” power unit for medium duty trucks) and the Route HD (a Range-extended Electric Vehicle powertrain geared for larger commercial trucks). Vehicles that start and stop frequently, such as delivery trucks and garbage trucks, benefit most from this type of setup.

Because the technology is more efficient than piston engines, Wright said a system like the Fulcrum could ultimately “replace piston engines in range-extended electric vehicle applications.”

“The automotive industry is in the midst of a fundamental disruption, with electric vehicles merely symbolizing the beginning of the movement,” said Wright. “The Fulcrum, together with our range-extended EV architecture, is perfectly suited for achieving maximum efficiency in extremely high-power stop-and-go applications, such as garbage trucks.”

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It’s a concept that Lou Ratto is willing to give try. As the chief operating officer of garbage and recycling company Ratto Group, he’s placed an order for Wrightspeed to retrofit 17 of his trucks with systems that will feature the Fulcrum. Ratto names rising maintenance costs as one of his primary motives for switching to a hybrid powertrain.

“When this works I will have significant savings. How much, I’m not sure,” Ratto said. “I’m dying to find out.”