Eaton is working on upgrading its hybrid electric vehicle power control system by reducing the size of the battery 50 percent and improving the total performance of the system and its charge rate while maintaining battery life, fuel economy and overall vehicle performance. The R&D project will be funded jointly between Eaton and a grant from the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). It's intended to optimize operations of hybrids, from passenger cars to commercials vehicles.
The $2.8-million project will be led by Eaton's Innovation Center team in Southfield, MI, who will work with a team from the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Eaton will leverage its expertise in intelligent power management systems and hybrid technology with the NREL's expertise in battery modeling and prognostics. Eaton thinks improving hybrid power management and extending battery life would work well in other sectors, including community infrastructure, data centers, manufacturing and industrial.
Eaton is playing a significant role in several DOE projects in advanced, efficient vehicle and fueling technologies. These include affordable home refueling stations for natural gas vehicles, compressed natural gas, research on waste heat recovery for commercial vehicles and fuel cell expander research. The 100-year old company is also playing a key role in electric vehicle charging station technologies, for example with its DC Quick Charger.
Green vehicle technologies are seeing a lot of small start-up companies come and go, and do need support government grants and well-established, solid companies like Eaton. The question for mega-companies like General Electric, Siemens, Panasonic and global automakers could be: Are green vehicle technologies worth it for you? Is this a niche you're testing out for a little while to see if sales and production ramp up enough to make it worth the investments? Eaton would probably say yes, having played a large role in commercial vehicle hybrid systems for several years, but for all the rest of it – electric vehicles and their charging stations, hybrids, natural gas vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles – a lot of investment and long-term strategic is needed. Some of these major suppliers are likely to come and go.