The growing Lightning Hybrids teamThe growing Lightning Hybrids team

Volatile fuel prices, concerns for air quality, and commercial pressures to be operationally efficient have led truck and bus fleet operators to evaluate new technologies that can significantly improve vehicle efficiencies while reducing harmful emissions. Few technologies are as promising – and as widely deployable – as the hybrid hydraulic propulsion system from Lightning Hybrids.

Contrary to its current focus on commercial vehicles, Lightning Hybrids was formed in 2008 in Loveland with a very different goal in mind: the creation of a hybrid sports car that could achieve 100 miles per gallon to compete for the Progressive Automotive X-Prize. It was soon apparent that the technology would be more applicable to fleet vehicles with frequent stop-start driving patterns, like delivery trucks and shuttle buses, and the company turned its attention to that market.

In March 2014, Lightning Hybrids was one of the first companies in the state to be awarded a Colorado Advanced Industry Accelerator (AIA) Early Stage Capital and Retention Grant. The $500,000 grant was timely, as the company’s product development had reached a level of maturity where it was time to go after international target markets. “Lightning Hybrids is proud to be among the first recipients of this award from the State of Colorado, which places us in the community of Colorado companies that are leading the world in innovative and applicable clean energy technologies,” says Tim Reeser, president of Lightning Hybrids.

Led by its co-founders, CTO Dan Johnson and president Tim Reeser, Lightning Hybrids has always engaged with regional initiatives and organizations to benefit from and contribute to Colorado’s leadership in clean energy. “We have been engaged with the Rocky Mountain Innosphere’s non-resident executive program, and have been involved with the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster. We have been a member of CCIA since the beginning and will continue to participate in networking and legislation activities,” says Reeser. “This kind of entrepreneurial ecosystem is critical for early-stage companies like Lightning Hybrids.” In addition, collaboration with major automotive companies and universities such as Colorado State has ensured that product development has always been effectively optimized for its goals.

Engineers operating the new dynamometer

Lightning Hybrids’ technology is unique among its competitors in several ways. It is designed to be retrofittable to almost any truck or bus (gasoline, diesel, propane or CNG); it uses hydraulic accumulators, not batteries, which give it much improved regenerative energy efficiency, cost-effectiveness, safety and reliability relative to electric hybrid solutions; and its low system cost means that operators will see returns on their investment in as little as one year (depending on drive cycle and local fuel prices). Benefits to operators include improved fuel efficiency of 30%, reduced emissions (up to 90% reduction in NOx, a key ingredient in smog), and dramatically increased lifetime for brake components. Drivers will also enjoy the quicker acceleration from a stand-still that the system provides, which is useful in heavy traffic situations. These benefits are especially applicable to vehicles with a frequent stop-start duty cycle, such as buses and delivery trucks.

Lightning Hybrids leveraged the AI grant to raise additional funding from new investors like Factor(E) and BP Castrol’s innoVentures. The award was critical to this process, because of both the credential garnered from winning the grant and the value of the incremental investment. This fresh funding directly enabled Lightning Hybrids to tool up – both in capital investment and in people – to take their product to the world. Twelve additional full-time employees were added in all functions from skilled fabricators to sales staff. A manufacturing director was hired to support production ramp-up, both in-house and at partner facilities: an important function, given the projected large volumes of units in the sales pipeline. Five design engineers were hired to focus on international truck and bus platforms, and marketing and operational personnel were also added to the roster. Hiring continues, to the benefit of Colorado’s economy.

The Loveland-based manufacturing facility was expanded and equipped with essential tools, including a dynamometer which is used both for new product development and for commissioning production units prior to installation into a vehicle. A powder-coat booth was also purchased, reducing manufacturing time by two weeks per system.

First ride on a converted bus of the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation in India

In addition, Lightning Hybrids leveraged the grant money to establish two overseas entities: one in the United Kingdom and one in Bangalore, India. Both of these locations have much higher fuel prices and worse air quality than the US, making the benefits of a regenerative hybrid system very apparent. The company is now working with partners and customers in the UK and in Turkey, building relationships which represent a substantial sales funnel.

As a direct result of the grant and Lightning Hybrids’ global vision, the company has added support for six new vehicle platforms from four manufacturers: Mercedes-Benz, Ashok Leyland and Tata Trucks and Buses (India), and DAF Trucks (UK and Holland). Adding these vehicles to their portfolio extends the company’s reach into Europe, Asia and Latin America.

One of Lightning Hybrids’ achievements for 2014 was the filing and grant of a US patent relating to major simplifications and improved efficiencies in their technology (see the video). The AI grant also enabled the company to file in additional countries including China, India, Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and Canada. Not only does the patent protect Lightning Hybrids’ intellectual property, but it enables technology licensing which is a valuable avenue into the target market, promising wider penetration of a technology that benefits its users and the planet at large.

Moving forward into 2015, Lightning Hybrids will continue to build on the foundation set in prior years and the growth from last year due to the AI grant. Watch the news for announcements about major fleets adopting the hybrid technology in large purchases, as well as key industry partnership announcements.