Chrysler and EPA working on a minivan hydraulic hybrid system

Article by Christian Andrei, on January 20, 2011

Chrysler Group is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adapt a hydraulic hybrid system that may be used in an upcoming version of its popular minivan.

This was announced during a joint appearance by Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The project coincides with efforts to meet strict new fuel economy standards that are expected to take effect after 2016.

Notably, Chrysler is the only major automaker in the U.S. market without a hybrid offering. The EPA has worked with supplier Eaton Corp. to create a hydraulic hybrid system in order to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

This system is currently being tested in heavy work trucks. Conventional hybrids such as the Prius from Toyota Motor Corp. use batteries to store power and lessen the work that’s required of the combustion engine.

In many ways, a hydraulic hybrid vehicle functions in a very different manner compared to a hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV). For one, a hydraulic hybrid vehicle has no expensive batteries and no costly electric motors.

Instead, a hydraulic hybrid vehicle features a 117cc pump and 45cc drive electric motor – activated by a combustion engine – to compress fluid in a 14.4-gallon high-pressure tank up to 5,000psi. The test minivan will feature Chrysler's 2.4-liter 4-cylinder world engine. During acceleration, high-pressure fluid is directed through the drive axles to spin the wheels.

The fluid is then collected in a low-pressure accumulator tank. The engine will remain deactivated until the pressure on the high-pressure tank reaches below a certain threshold. Likewise, the momentum of the vehicle could also charge the high-pressure tank – as the motor on the drive axles acts like a pump to build on the tank while reducing speed.

This system is similar to how a regenerative brake system on an electric vehicle could generate electrical energy from its slowing momentum. With this setup, the conventional vehicle consumes between 30 percent and 35 percent less fuel. Chrysler intends to build a road-going prototype by 2012.

Press Release

Chrysler and U.S. EPA to Collaborate on Hydraulic Hybrid Minivan Powertrain

Chrysler Group LLC has formally announced a partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adapt the latter's hydraulic hybrid technology, currently seen in some commercial vehicles, for the passenger car market. The announcement was made at a joint press conference held at the EPA's emission laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson joining Chrysler chief executive officer (CEO) Sergio Marchionne for the proceedings. "In addition to creating the jobs of the future, clean energy benefits the U.S. economy by ultimately making energy costs more affordable for consumers—especially if their dollars stay in America", Marchionne said in a statement. "Hydraulic hybrid vehicle technology is one more promising path worth pursuing in the effort to reduce our carbon footprint, and we are excited to partner with the EPA to push forward on this track." Jackson agreed with this assessment. "Hydraulic hybrid vehicles represent the cutting edge of fuel-efficiency technology and are one of many approaches we're taking to save money for drivers, clean up the air we breathe and cut the greenhouse gases that jeopardize our health and prosperity", she said. "The EPA and Chrysler are working together to explore the possibilities for making this technology affordable and accessible to drivers everywhere. This partnership is further proof that we can preserve our climate, protect our health and strengthen our economy all at the same time."

The hydraulic hybrid works differently to a hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV). There are no expensive batteries on board the vehicle, and no expensive electric motors motivate the car. Instead, the internal combustion engine (in this case, the test minivan will use Chrysler's 2.4-litre 4-cylinder world engine) is used to activate a 117cc pump and 45cc "drive electric motor", which compresses a fluid in a 14.4-gallon high-pressure tank up to 5,000psi. When the driver wants to accelerate, high-pressure fluid is routed through the drive axles, which spins the wheels and motivates the vehicle before being collected in a low-pressure accumulator tank. Once the high-pressure tank is charged, the engine remains off until it drops below a certain pressure threshold. The high-pressure tank can also be charged by the momentum of the vehicle—to build pressure, the motor on the drive axles can also act like a pump, pressurising the tank while bleeding off speed and slowing the vehicle, much in the same way that a regenerative brake system on an electric vehicle (EV) can create electrical energy using the slowing momentum of that vehicle. Fuel consumption for the overall system is reportedly 30–35% better than for a conventional vehicle. Chrysler plans to have a prototype on the road by 2012.

Outlook and Implications
This is a rather unique approach to creating hybrid powertrains by Chrysler, and sources say that the upcoming hybrid version of the 300 sedan and Chrysler minivans will not actually use this system, but a different one that has yet to be unveiled. The concept of using a hydraulic hybrid system for a passenger car is somewhat unusual; thus far, the system has primarily been used on larger, commercial vehicles with frequent start-stop duty cycles. This is the ideal setting for a hydraulic hybrid as the accumulators can be charged and discharged with very little use of the engine beyond the initial build-up of pressure, as the cycle these vehicles employ makes more use of the regenerated energy to move the vehicle every time it comes to a frequent stop. As a result, these types of systems are much more commonly seen in big commercial trucks that make frequent stops, such as garbage trucks, delivery vehicles, and buses. If the system can be scaled down to passenger-car size, it is unclear just how useful it will be in a vehicle like a minivan. Urban driving applications would make the most sense, such as taxis or mail trucks; applications such as a suburban minivan would at first glance seem to be of less utility. Still, no exotic chemistries, complicated electronic controllers, or rare-earth materials are generally required to make a hydraulic hybrid system a reality, meaning that if Chrysler can truly make this system work, it could potentially be brought to market much less expensively and in a much shorter time than gasoline (petrol)-electric hybrid systems.

Topics: chrysler, epa

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