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.


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:



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.