Biodiesel 100 MPG Hydraulic-Hybrid vies for X Prize, Runs on Biodiesel

Published on March 11th, 2009 | by Clayton

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100 MPG Hydraulic-Hybrid vies for X Prize, Runs on Biodiesel


Lightning Hybrids

The automotive research and manufacturing company Lightning Hybrids says they’ve designed a 100 MPG hydraulic-hybrid with sports sedan performance (0-60 mph in 5.9s). The company hopes to score the $10 million purse from the Automotive X Prize.

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You may be asking yourself ‘What, exactly, is a ‘hydraulic-biodiesel hybrid’? Since there isn’t a great deal of information available on the Lightning Hybrids’ website or ABG, I decided to give the company a phone call.

It turns out that the space-age looking prototype car will use the same engine that’s in a VW Lupo/Polo (the European diesel that gets 70-80 mpg. Post-2008 engines are BlueTec and limit NOx). One of Lightning Hybrids engineers was nice enough to walk me through how a hydraulic-hybrid works.

“We have developed a unique and patent-pending biodiesel-hydraulic hybrid vehicle which emphasizes thermodynamic and hydraulic system efficiencies, lightweight mechanical and composite structures, and clean sports car styling.”

-Dan Johnson, Team Leader

Think about how a Prius hybrid operates: energy is stored in the battery via regenerative braking, which is then made available for acceleration and boosts overall fuel efficiency. In the hydraulic-hybrid, energy is instead stored in a pressurized chamber. For a visual, take a look at this video I found on Youtube (unrelated to Lightning Motors) and see an earlier post on UPS hydrualic hybrids:

In a series hydraulic hybrid, the conventional drivetrain is replaced with a hydraulic system that stores energy by compressing gas in a chamber using hydraulic fluid. It works in much the same way that a hybrid electric car does — a small, efficient motor generates power which gets stored for later use — only, the way energy is stored in a hydraulic hybrid is in a pressurized chamber rather than in a battery (source).

The biodiesel component is important for the car’s overall score in the Automotive X Prize race, which requires both 100 MPGe fuel economy and low emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Lightning Hybrids says they’re interested in biodiesel because its much cleaner burning than diesel fuel and it can be sourced locally. Ultimately, they’d be interested in partnering with local biodiesel producers, like Solix, which is trying to make biodiesel from algae.

While Lightning Hybrids currently does not show up on the Automotive X Prize’s website, they did meet the second entry deadline in 2008, and are on track to meet competition deadlines.

The Automotive X Prize will kick off in 2009, with rigorous cross-country stage races that combine speed, distance, urban driving and overall performance (for more information, see the official rules of the Automotive X Prize).

Images courtesy of Lightning Hybrids.

[Update, Mar. 13] Check out an even better vidieo of the UPS hydraulic hybrid:



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About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.



  • http://www.biodiversivist.com Russ Finley

    “…The biodiesel component is important for the car’s overall score in the Automotive X Prize race, which requires both 100 MPGe fuel economy and low emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants…”

    If the biodiesel isn’t made from waste veg oil it is worse for global warming than conventional fuel on global life cycle basis.

    Source: http://home.comcast.net/~russ676/biodiesel/page3.html

    Tail pipe emissions regulated by the EPA may be worse for this car than a gasoline version, depending on how effective the air pollution systems are.

    Source: http://home.comcast.net/~russ676/biodiesel/page6.html

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2009/1/5/13333/12308

  • http://www.biodiversivist.com Russ Finley

    “…The biodiesel component is important for the car’s overall score in the Automotive X Prize race, which requires both 100 MPGe fuel economy and low emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants…”

    If the biodiesel isn’t made from waste veg oil it is worse for global warming than conventional fuel on global life cycle basis.

    Source: http://home.comcast.net/~russ676/biodiesel/page3.html

    Tail pipe emissions regulated by the EPA may be worse for this car than a gasoline version, depending on how effective the air pollution systems are.

    Source: http://home.comcast.net/~russ676/biodiesel/page6.html

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2009/1/5/13333/12308

  • http://www.cleanerairforcities.blogspot.com WillG

    Thanks for writing this article.

    This is fantastic!! Hydraulic systems store more energy per lb than electric, and you don’t have chemical batteries to dispose of! Good luck to these folks.

    I have read a couple articles about hydraulic hybrids, though they usually involve trucks. The latest one I found was “Big Green Trucks” found here: http://economicefficiency.blogspot.com/2008/12/big-green-trucks.html

    I would love to see this hydraulic hybrid technology take off!

  • http://www.cleanerairforcities.blogspot.com WillG

    Thanks for writing this article.

    This is fantastic!! Hydraulic systems store more energy per lb than electric, and you don’t have chemical batteries to dispose of! Good luck to these folks.

    I have read a couple articles about hydraulic hybrids, though they usually involve trucks. The latest one I found was “Big Green Trucks” found here: http://economicefficiency.blogspot.com/2008/12/big-green-trucks.html

    I would love to see this hydraulic hybrid technology take off!

  • http://www.certifiedmastertech.com/wordpress/category/alternative-fuels/ Alternative fuels blogger

    I have never heard of hydraulic hybrids before today. I like the idea. I work on some John Deer tractors that use the hydraulic pump to drive cutting blades on butterfly mower decks.

    I always wondered when they would get around to driving the wheels with this same technology. It’s good to see it is moving foreword! Thanks for the information and the videos as well.

  • http://www.certifiedmastertech.com/wordpress/category/alternative-fuels/ Alternative fuels blogger

    I have never heard of hydraulic hybrids before today. I like the idea. I work on some John Deer tractors that use the hydraulic pump to drive cutting blades on butterfly mower decks.

    I always wondered when they would get around to driving the wheels with this same technology. It’s good to see it is moving foreword! Thanks for the information and the videos as well.

  • Jellymuscles

    What Russ Finley said about polution on March 28 (I think)was absolutely, completely, and shockingly false! When you grow plants, you take carbon out of the air to make a plant through photosynchysis. When you burn the plant you just put the same carbon back into the air. This is completely different than burning gas and oil from the ground. Practically all 7th graders know that.

  • Jellymuscles

    What Russ Finley said about polution on March 28 (I think)was absolutely, completely, and shockingly false! When you grow plants, you take carbon out of the air to make a plant through photosynchysis. When you burn the plant you just put the same carbon back into the air. This is completely different than burning gas and oil from the ground. Practically all 7th graders know that.

  • MattBurk

    On Biofuels: the reports that I have seen show biodiesel from virgin feedstocks product about 160% of the energy used to make them. It depends on the feedstock and the system used to product it.

    A hydraulic hybrid uses compressed gas to store energy instead of a battery. The pressurized gas can push oil back though motors and pumps. They have a much higher power density than today’s batteries, meaning you can get the energy in and out of them much faster than batteries. I don’t know about energy density.

    Hydraulic systems are used in many applications. I have had engineers tell me that single speed hydraulic systems are more efficient than mechanical. Most hydraulic systems loss efficiency at the low end of their operating range, which makes them poorly suited for vehicles. Several people claim to have solved this problem. I hope we see some examples soon.

  • MattBurk

    On Biofuels: the reports that I have seen show biodiesel from virgin feedstocks product about 160% of the energy used to make them. It depends on the feedstock and the system used to product it.

    A hydraulic hybrid uses compressed gas to store energy instead of a battery. The pressurized gas can push oil back though motors and pumps. They have a much higher power density than today’s batteries, meaning you can get the energy in and out of them much faster than batteries. I don’t know about energy density.

    Hydraulic systems are used in many applications. I have had engineers tell me that single speed hydraulic systems are more efficient than mechanical. Most hydraulic systems loss efficiency at the low end of their operating range, which makes them poorly suited for vehicles. Several people claim to have solved this problem. I hope we see some examples soon.

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