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John Petersen is executive vice president and chief financial officer of ePower Engine Systems, Inc., a company that has developed, built and demonstrated an engine-dominant diesel-electric hybrid drivetrain for long-haul heavy trucks that promises fuel savings of 25 to 35 percent depending on... More
My company:
Fefer petersen & co.
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ipo-law.com
  • Current Update From EPower Engine Systems 44 comments
    Jun 8, 2014 4:43 PM | about stocks: AXPW

    Since many stockholders of Axion Power International (AXPW) are following the progress of our development work at ePower Engine Systems and it's been a month and a half since I offered any detail, I thought a lightly edited version Jay Bowman's most recent shareholder update would be worthwhile.

    We have completed all of the modifications to the Peterbilt 387 sleeper as of last Friday. Over the course of the last month we have.

    • Changed the transmission valve body to drop the shifting points to 1950 rpm because we wanted to bring the drive motor's speed within its maximum torque band (1800 rpm).
    • Reduced the rear end gear ratio on the truck from 4:63 to 3:55 because we wanted to reduce the drive motor speed and keep it closer to its optimal torque curve.
    • Removed the forward drive axle and replaced it with a liftable tag axle to reduce weight.
    • Reworked the air system for the air ride suspension and brakes to ensure legal operation of the tag axle and controls.
    • Replaced the rear dual wheels with aluminum wheels and super single tires to reduce weight.
    • Removed four PbC batteries from the battery pack because we wanted to find out if the batteries could operate at a higher state of charge, which would eliminate the need for further work on our charge optimization software and save about 230 pounds.
    • Collected data for the Marathon engineers in an effort to improve our system's Power Factor and improve efficiency.
    • Moved the electric drive motor and transmission assembly 30 inches towards the rear of the tractor to shift weight off the front steering axle.

    As you can see, thses were some major modifications. I'm happy to report that we saved 1,022 lbs. and brought the tractor closer to the goals R&L gave me last year. The front axle weight is well within DOT limits and the transmission is more accessible for maintenance. Our drive motor is now operating at 1860 rpm at 65 mph, rather than 2800 rpm at 65 mph. We spent most of last week working with the Marathon engineers collecting data while we tuned the truck for our upcoming fuel and performance testing. With Marathon's help we have been able to correct several problems with our digital voltage regulator (NYSE:DVR) and raised our power factor from the 0.62 we were seeing last month into the 0.92 to 0.94 range. We also increased peak generator output from 115KW to 135KW and reduced the drop in rpm on the diesel engine during high power requirements.

    We made one test run on the truck each day last week logging a total of 330 miles. We had some problems with the air system that prevented us from doing additional testing. The truck's air dryer was releasing air pressure to the brake system and the brakes would not function properly. Temporary repairs have been made so that we can continue testing and we have ordered a new air dryer that should be delivered by end of next week. Most of the testing last week focused on collecting data Marathon. We will begin serious fuel economy testing on Monday and should have a good idea of what our numbers are by the end of the week. With the generator and DVR working properly and a 52 PbC battery pack we saw a solid 11.0 MPG on our test course with a bob-tail tractor.

    (click to enlarge)

    As you can see our test course contains many elevation changes, rather than the flat and level testing courses typically used for MPG testing. Elevation is in blue graduated on the right axis, with speed in red on the left axis. We have four stopping points on this course as indicated by a zero mph. The truck is operated in cruise control mode and holds its speed very flat during the testing. I am certain that when tested under typical course conditions our numbers will be higher.

    Our experiment with removing four PbC's from the battery pack caused several problems and had a negative impact on fuel mileage and performance. The idea was to have the batteries operate at a higher state of charge thereby supplying the same amount of boost power to our system. Both I and the Axion engineers thought this was worth a try to see how they would perform. We knew that the PbC battery has a U shaped curve as far as internal resistance of the battery and that attempting to run at a higher SOC may have us fighting the resistance curve. This has proven to be the case. By raising the internal resistance of our battery pack we have upset the balance of power distribution in the system. The electric drive motor now has a lower internal resistance than our battery pack; this makes it more difficult to charge our batteries, as the power path to the electric motor has less resistance than the batteries. We will be reinstalling the four additional batteries and associated wiring on Monday morning to return the pack to a 56-battery configuration. We have also bought Cummins' "INSITE Service Tool" and expect to receive our copy of the software on Monday. We integrate the INSITE software into our data collection system immediately. The upgrade will give us printed documentation of real time fuel usage and information to share with the Cummins engineers.

    (click to enlarge)

    Our heaviest test last week was at a GVW of 45,200 lbs. on Friday afternoon. We had to abandon that test when an accident backed-up freeway traffic. The truck performed well from a power point of view. We did notice a significant decrease in acceleration under load but once up to speed the truck maintained speed through the course.

    As you know our US Patent application was allowed by the US patent Office. I have instructed our Patent attorneys to complete the granting process. This will provide patent protection as of today in the US and Mexico. Our applications in Canada, Europe, China and Honk Kong are still pending. Our attorney was pleased that the body of our patent was approved and remained intact by the examiners. They will be requesting expedited reviews from the EU and Canada at my request now that we have the US patent in hand.

    Disclosure: I am long AXPW.

    Stocks: AXPW
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Comments (44)
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  • Billion003
    , contributor
    Comments (293) | Send Message
     
    Very good.
    8 Jun 2014, 05:02 PM Reply Like
  • Shirleyr
    , contributor
    Comments (123) | Send Message
     
    Thank you for the detailed status.
    8 Jun 2014, 05:04 PM Reply Like
  • H. T. Love
    , contributor
    Comments (19433) | Send Message
     
    Overall, good news!

     

    Will the need to add the four batteries back cause any concerns about the front axle loading or push the weight penalty to where it might be a concern for customers?

     

    HardToLove
    8 Jun 2014, 05:08 PM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » The four batteries weigh 230 pounds and the rear axles carry the bulk of the battery weight, so we're really not concerned with front axle loading. We are a little heavier than the "ideal weight" a major carrier told us to shoot for, but they rarely load to 80,000 pounds combined weight so we think the weight target is far less important than the fuel economy target.
    8 Jun 2014, 06:36 PM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » The battery experiment seemed like a good idea but it really hurt performance because the 52 batteries didn't want to charge above 624 VDC (52x12). Since we get optimal performance when the batteries bring 650 to 670 VDC to the party, we expect next week's numbers to be a good deal better than last week's numbers.
    8 Jun 2014, 05:09 PM Reply Like
  • Renzo
    , contributor
    Comments (346) | Send Message
     
    Thank you for the update. Regarding optimal performance, do you expect re-addition of the four batteries to affect the acceleration, fuel economy or both?
    8 Jun 2014, 05:53 PM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » It should impact both. The batteries step in to fill the voltage gap when current demand from the drive motor pulls the DC busbar voltage under about 650 volts. Without the four batteries, our busbar voltage had to fall to about 620 volts before the batteries pitched in to help. We thought there was a chance we might be able to keep the batteries over-charged and save a couple hundred pounds in the process. It didn't work the way we wanted.
    8 Jun 2014, 06:33 PM Reply Like
  • dastar
    , contributor
    Comments (274) | Send Message
     
    Nice update! I'm looking forward to seeing what the numbers will be like under heavier loads.
    8 Jun 2014, 05:51 PM Reply Like
  • Tampa Ted
    , contributor
    Comments (2652) | Send Message
     
    Thanks for the update, John. Looking forward to the regular reports from the various fleets that want to test.

     

    Is the 11MPG bobcat number better than the John Deere?
    8 Jun 2014, 08:07 PM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » The 11 mpg is a little lower, but it's a meaningless number because we were underpowered on the battery pack ad didn't get the boost or the regen that gives rise to the economy.
    8 Jun 2014, 09:23 PM Reply Like
  • PbC Believer
    , contributor
    Comments (258) | Send Message
     
    Are you using the PbC 30HT or the 30H?
    8 Jun 2014, 10:27 PM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » We're using the 30H because our battery boxes mount flush with the top of the frame rail and the height of the 30HT gives rise to ground clearance issues. Since we never take the string voltage down below the mid-400s, I've been thinking about the possibility of using a smaller case size and more batteries, although more cells would get us to the same place.
    9 Jun 2014, 05:29 AM Reply Like
  • PbC Believer
    , contributor
    Comments (258) | Send Message
     
    Unless you have a DC-DC inverter to boost the voltage the PbC stored energy becomes useless at an early stage of discharge. You are using only 1/3 of the total stored energy. That's a lot of wasted capacity which translates to a lot of wasted battery space and battery weight. Is it because the batteries can't deliver the power you need below a 66% SOC even if you boost the voltage?

     

    Even with the DC-DC inverter the max deliverable power will fall as the SOC decreases because of the ever increasing current demands at the battery terminals.

     

    I am very certain that the real engineers at ePower and at Axion have considered all of the battery and electronics realities that exist in this challenging application and have little use for comments and ideas from the peanut gallery.
    9 Jun 2014, 07:25 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » With our engine-dominant system the only thing we're looking for from the batteries is transitory boost during acceleration and boost for grades that other tractors can take at 65 mph without downshifting. By the time a grade is long enough to require more energy from the battery, it's usually long enough to make other tractors downshift. Once you start drilling down into components like DC-DC inverters, you're out of my depth and those are issues I leave for the engineering types who have a better understanding of the costs and benefits.
    9 Jun 2014, 08:20 AM Reply Like
  • PbC Believer
    , contributor
    Comments (258) | Send Message
     
    Either way, if you have them make the battery with seven cells (same size case but 14v) it will give you the voltage you need and about the same total energy stored, and it will avoid the need for adding the 4 extra batteries and the unwanted additional weight.
    8 Jun 2014, 10:35 PM Reply Like
  • Stilldazed
    , contributor
    Comments (3548) | Send Message
     
    Hi JP,
    Thanks for the update. Interesting outcome on the experiment and pointing out how internal resistance affects power at higher states of charge. Might be interesting to know how a 16 volt battery would respond on a purely curiosity level since auto is talking about 48 volt systems. Yeah, I know, not pertinent here, but enquiring minds want to know.;-)

     

    So, if I understood the outcome correctly, the higher the state of charge, the more the internal resistance of the battery? iindy where are you?
    9 Jun 2014, 03:58 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » If you look at Page 7 of the Charge Acceptance white paper on Axion's website, you'll see that the charging resistance of the PbC is lowest between ~7 and ~11 volts but it climbs sharply as you approach top of charge. We need 640 to 650 volts at the DC busbar for optimal performance and 52 batteries at 12 volts only gives us 624 volts, so we were experimenting with keeping the batteries overcharged. I don't know wether Axion has 14- or 16-volt cases in the 30H form factor, but it will probably be worth trying if the cost isn't too high.
    9 Jun 2014, 05:38 AM Reply Like
  • DaveT
    , contributor
    Comments (209) | Send Message
     
    "raised our power factor from the 0.62 we were seeing last month into the 0.92 to 0.94 range."
    Sounds great, presumably translates directly into fuel efficiency!?

     

    Pity about the batteries needing to go back in (weight-wise).

     

    As it sounds like, in the absence of a different fix, you will be producing a heavier tractor (vs normal diesel), are there any extra costs (say tyre and brake wear or the reduced load capability) that will mitigate fuel savings (materially)?

     

    Do you know how your axle loads might compare with European regulations/restrictions?
    9 Jun 2014, 06:30 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Weight is more of a roads issue than a mechanical issue, and several States have changed their regulations to permit heavier weights in tractors with alternative or high efficiency fuel systems. Besides, in the context of a 21,700 pound tractor or a 60,000 to 70,000 pound gross combined weight rating, or GCWR, a few hundred pounds of batteries is insignificant.

     

    For now our primary focus is building a tractor that can boost fuel economy by 40% to 60% and haul the most common cargo weights. We have several obvious weight reduction paths, including liquid cooled and/or rare earth permanent magnet generators and drive motors, but there's no sense chasing weight optimization until we have the performance we need.

     

    This week should tell us a lot.

     

    The European markets should be an easier target than the US because their GCWR and speed requirements are lower while their fuel costs are almost double. The big challenge with an EU tractor would be finding enough "real estate" on the chassis for all the components. While we see Europe as a very attractive market, we plan to stay close to home until we have a couple million miles of system reliability testing under our belts.
    9 Jun 2014, 07:12 AM Reply Like
  • nakedjaybird
    , contributor
    Comments (2851) | Send Message
     
    John - when it comes to optimization of the ePowersystem to gain some system packaging space, lose some weight, gain some electric drive torque especially at low speed, reduce the power conditioning capacity requirements and associated hardware size and weight and cost, obviate the need for water cooling, and also to stay away from rare earth motors, all by using a Chorus Motor

     

    ( chorusmotors.gi ),

     

    assuming Chorus can divert their attention away from

     

    wheeltug.gi .
    9 Jun 2014, 11:00 AM Reply Like
  • nakedjaybird
    , contributor
    Comments (2851) | Send Message
     
    PS - I forgot to mention a possible reduction in transmission requirements.
    9 Jun 2014, 11:38 AM Reply Like
  • greentongue
    , contributor
    Comments (973) | Send Message
     
    Is getting the truck in the hands of a customer going to be held up by the air issue? I assume that the return of the 4 batteries will not be an issue since they are not being added but restored.

     

    Has all the weight testing been completed or is the testing period been extended for yet another week?

     

    (The truck / train "race" is getting close.)
    9 Jun 2014, 08:24 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » We don't view our first independent trucker as a likely buyer, but you never know. Our primary goal is to build an experience base while developing credible third party data hauling brokered freight on normal routes. We want to sell drivetrains and we believe our drivetrain will sell itself, but we have a lot of learning to do before we'll be ready for prime time.

     

    Our decision to experiment with fewer batteries extended our testing timeline because the experiment didn't go as well as we wanted. The air brake repairs are just a normal part of truck maintenance.

     

    There is no race! We making our business decisions based on the perceived needs of our potential customers. We cannot afford short-cuts even if they'd make nice PR for Axion. When we're satisfied with our results, you'll be the first to know.
    9 Jun 2014, 08:55 AM Reply Like
  • Al Marshall
    , contributor
    Comments (631) | Send Message
     
    John: I was very impressed by all that the ePower team was able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time. Will these changes (such as moving the electric motor and transmission 30") make the "commercial" retrofit process significantly more complicated than previously envisioned?
    9 Jun 2014, 09:51 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » None of the changes will impact the future installation process. They're simply system refinements that make the tractor lighter, better balanced and easier to service.
    9 Jun 2014, 09:54 AM Reply Like
  • H. T. Love
    , contributor
    Comments (19433) | Send Message
     
    John: Thinking about it, I wonder if down the road a 16V battery might be the solution to accomplish what you tried with the 12V battery. Since your app is almost pure power and not total energy dependent, my amateur engineer proclivity leads me to the 16V solution.

     

    HardToLove
    9 Jun 2014, 10:22 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » I'm sure it will be a path that merits exploration, but we need to establish a baseline first so that we can better assess the incremental costs and benefits of future changes.
    9 Jun 2014, 10:24 AM Reply Like
  • wtblanchard
    , contributor
    Comments (2410) | Send Message
     
    God help us if Axion's "non-amateur" staff, who by all accounts have been working very closely with ePower, haven't long ago correctly made these kind of assessments, and their "case" ...
    9 Jun 2014, 10:27 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » The "assessments" cannot be properly made by anybody's "non-amateur staff" until we have a basic drivetrain that meets our customer's requirements. Focusing on system refinement before finishing system development is putting the cart before the horse.
    9 Jun 2014, 10:40 AM Reply Like
  • iindelco
    , contributor
    Comments (10233) | Send Message
     
    John, Thanks for the update.

     

    IIRC, Axion did not share w/ ePower the last revisions made to get better supercabattery performance to get to the current rev. level battery pack. Probably done already but perhaps, given the weight reduction targeted by removing 4 batteries is about 7%, Axion can further "tune" the batteries to target this level of mass reduction and give the application additional capacitive energy storage.

     

    For the future.

     

    Signed, A self appointed unpaid representative for the industrial coconut trade association.
    9 Jun 2014, 05:10 PM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Once we have a basic drivetrain that meets our customer's needs, we think we'll have a world of opportunities to make the good better. Some items like a better transmission and liquid cooled generators and drive motors are obvious. Other items like changing battery architecture and construction are less obvious, but every bit as important.

     

    Short-term we need to get tractors on the road proving basic drivetrain durability for a few million miles, or maybe tens of millions of miles. With each tractor logging 120,000 to 200,000 miles a year, the goal is not as ambitious as it seems at first blush, but it will still give us 12 to 18 months for system enhancement and mechanic training before we aggressively ramp volume.
    9 Jun 2014, 05:42 PM Reply Like
  • Tampa Ted
    , contributor
    Comments (2652) | Send Message
     
    "Short-term we need to get tractors on the road proving basic drivetrain durability for a few million miles, or maybe tens of millions of miles."

     

    John - I couldn't agree more. Looking forward to ePower starting to hit some public milestones. 100K, 250K, 500K miles logged ... 8/9/10 MPG ... independent numbers that your potential clients can chew on.
    9 Jun 2014, 09:12 PM Reply Like
  • jcrjg
    , contributor
    Comments (174) | Send Message
     
    John,

     

    I haven't followed the concentrators as closely recently so I apologize if you have already mentioned this. Putting aside the issue of whether you think you can do a little better with certain tweaks, are you basically where you need to be in terms of simultaneously getting good fuel milage and performance?

     

    Thanks.
    10 Jun 2014, 07:47 PM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » We think we're where we need to be to have a marketable product. There are a variety of other potential enhancements that we want want to try as time and finances permit, but we think our basic drivetrain is as good as it can be for now, subject of course to a little fine tuning. The next week or two will be very important as we get a better feel for how the tractor will perform over a range of weights and speeds.
    10 Jun 2014, 07:56 PM Reply Like
  • jcrjg
    , contributor
    Comments (174) | Send Message
     
    Great news, thanks.
    10 Jun 2014, 09:34 PM Reply Like
  • sprstirl
    , contributor
    Comments (86) | Send Message
     
    JP: love reading this stuff... thanks so much to you and the 'comments' your articles inspire!
    11 Jun 2014, 01:37 PM Reply Like
  • ARGE
    , contributor
    Comments (724) | Send Message
     
    Great to get the info, thanks John.
    Does running at the lower RPM give you a better burn rate for hour, I think you mentioned before 6.8mph?
    11 Jun 2014, 07:01 PM Reply Like
  • H. T. Love
    , contributor
    Comments (19433) | Send Message
     
    Arge: "mph" Good grief man! ;-))

     

    HardToLove
    12 Jun 2014, 09:44 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » We've always run the diesel engine at an optimal steady state RPM to achieve the rated fuel burn of 6.8 gallons per hour. The last set of changes reduced the RPM of the electric drive motor to bring it back within its optimal power and torque band. Now that the drivetrain is running at optimal rates from the engine through the rear wheels, we need to find out how much weight we can haul without over-stressing the system.
    12 Jun 2014, 09:55 AM Reply Like
  • ARGE
    , contributor
    Comments (724) | Send Message
     
    HTL, so much for the if it looks right test in proof reading.
    12 Jun 2014, 10:36 AM Reply Like
  • H. T. Love
    , contributor
    Comments (19433) | Send Message
     
    ARGE; He-he! I'm one of the more frequent victims of I read what I meant to write instead of what I actually wrote!

     

    Can't seem to break that habit!

     

    HardToLove
    12 Jun 2014, 10:43 AM Reply Like
  • ARGE
    , contributor
    Comments (724) | Send Message
     
    Oh....got it, but John what I cannot seem to wrap my head around is that if the engine burns 6.8gph, how that translates into 11mpg, if given that if the truck is on the road for an hour it will use a 6.8 gallons of diesel, if it was running at a steady 60 mph it would travel 60 miles in one hour, one hour of run time should be 6.8 gallons burned, or 8.82 mpg, with the MPG going up at fast speeds and down at lower speeds. If the entire trip was at 75MPH, with no slowing down (not a real world possibility) it would be 11.03mpg, What am I missing?
    12 Jun 2014, 10:31 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (30629) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » First, a bobtail test is useless for anything but a baseline since it only tells you what the tractor will do if you don't ask it to do any work. Our 11 mpg on this particular baseline test was a little disappointing and the only thing it told us that we couldn't make do with 52 batteries instead of 56.

     

    The 6.8 gph fuel burn rate is for an engine output of 240 hp. If the load doesn't require 240 horsepower, the fuel burn rate will improve even though engine RPM remains constant.

     

    When we hook up a trailer and bring the combined tractor, trailer and cargo weight up into the 55,000 to 65,000 pound range, we're hoping for something in the 9 to 10 mpg range. But even 8 mpg would be a 33% improvement over the current average and handily beat the EPA's 2017 targets.

     

    Our testing will give us a good idea of what the tractor should do in the hands of a freight hauler, but the acid test will come when we turn over the keys to a trucker and let him put the tractor to work hauling freight on a daily basis.
    12 Jun 2014, 10:55 AM Reply Like
  • jwallingcfa
    , contributor
    Comments (10) | Send Message
     
    Thanks for the update John. Couple of questions:
    1. By changing the gear ratio you're gaining optimal torque but what is the impact on the hauling performance as generally lower gear ratios negatively impact hauling efficiency
    2. Is the forward drive axle replacement part of a typical repowering overhaul or will this create incremental cost?
    3. Is the shift to single rear superwheels something the industry is doing or will this be an additional cost (or savings) as well?
    12 Jun 2014, 02:43 PM Reply Like
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