After a recent discussion with friends regarding greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation industry, I walked away realizing that we hadn’t ventured past personal vehicles.

We had covered some interesting topics: the fuel efficiency of different vehicle models, hybrid-electric versus electric vehicles and, of course, alternative methods of transportation, namely walking, biking and public transit. But we hadn’t talked about the trucking industry at all! Which left out a significant portion of the fossil fuel-consuming, greenhouse gas-emitting transportation sector from our discussion.

In Canada alone, trucking represents a $65-billion industry, employing over 260,000 drivers. In 2006, heavy trucks accounted for 21.8 billion kilometres of transportation in Canada and medium-sized trucks accumulated an additional 7.4 billion kilometres (Canadian Trucking Alliance).

To put that in perspective, that’s about 730,000 trips around the Earth or 97 round trips to the sun. All of this accumulated mileage requires fuel—lots of fuel. However, fuel requirements, primarily diesel, include not just the amount of fuel needed to move the transport vehicle from location to location, but also the energy required to run the HVAC and auxiliary power systems that are necessary to maintain the vehicle’s cabin environment.

EnerMotion, an Ontario-based startup and MaRS client, has developed a method of capturing waste exhaust heat from a vehicle and converting it into useful, practical and efficient energy. EnerMotion’s Hybrid Power & Energy Recovery (HYPER) storage system is an innovative mobile waste heat recovery and energy storage system with potentially huge implications in transportation applications.

Market-changing technology

The goal of the HYPER system is to reduce operating expenses for the trucking industry while meeting anti-idling laws. The system improves the overall efficiency with the vehicle both in motion and at rest. Additionally, the HYPER system is an environmentally friendly solution that has the potential of removing thousands of kilotonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. In fact, the carbon dioxide reduction for a long-haul truck with a sleeper cab adopting the HYPER unit is estimated at 92 cubic metres (32.5 tonnes) per year, with an average truck in Canada and the United States realizing 55 cubic metres (19.5 tonnes) per year. The corresponding figure for the entire North American truck fleet would be 48,900 kilotonnes per year!

How does it work?

Waste heat from the truck’s engine, in the form of exhaust, is captured and used to drive a refrigeration cycle similar to the process used in your fridge at home. The HYPER system is able to generate cold and hot thermal conditions with the same unit, providing a complete HVAC system for the truck’s cabin and sleeper without consuming any extra fuel. Further, the HYPER unit has the ability to store thermal conditions to provide HVAC capabilities for various haul routes in a variety of environmental conditions and climates while the vehicle is at rest, thereby eliminating idling of the main engine or the use of diesel auxiliary power units. The technology offers significant operational cost savings and lowers greenhouse gas emissions.

EnerMotion is currently conducting road trials of their HYPER system on their own heavy-duty truck. They most recently returned from Florida, where the trials yielded very positive results. The company will be expanding field trials with customers in the coming months as traction increases all across North America.

And the award goes to…

EnerMotion’s HYPER system was recently chosen among thousands of submissions to receive a 2013 Invention Award from one of science’s most widely read magazines, Popular Science, which has more than seven million readers. The magazine’s May 2013 issue announced the winners of the 2013 Innovation Awards, giving EnerMotion top honours in the energy category with the award for “Hot Savings.”

Raising capital

In a recent Meet the Entrepreneurs panel at MaRS, Jack MacDonnell, CEO of EnerMotion, talked about the difficulty of raising capital and emphasized the need to maximize use of government funding programs. Jack and his team have made full use of Canada’s funding programs, which have allowed them to finance the development of HYPER.

Thus far, EnerMotion has received financial support from:

EnerMotion has also secured partnerships with strategic players who are helping the company to de-risk its technology and build out customer traction. You can see a list of EnerMotion’s partners on their website.

Advice for entrepreneurs

I sat down with Jack to discuss his business and to get some advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

You’ve been extremely successful in securing non-dilutive government funding. How important has this been to growing EnerMotion?

Our government funding has really helped us leverage private capital and achieve progress from one year to the next. It’s a tough grind raising capital in North America, either from private investors, venture capital firms or investment banks. Having financial support from the government provides tangible differentiators between you and the next guy—and there are lots of other startups out there all vying for the same capital. In my humble view, Canada has one of the most accessible and rewarding funding infrastructures in place anywhere in the world, and if you’re not capitalizing on it for your own venture, you and your company are missing out.

What inspired you to tackle fuel efficiencies in the energy sector?

My team and I have been focused on energy efficiency since Day 1 of EnerMotion’s existence. We realized that changing infrastructure overnight was unrealistic, but that the world needed an answer to fossil fuel consumption and harmful greenhouse gas emissions now. This is what motivated us to develop the HYPER technology, because tangible benefits are the outcome of improving energy efficiency—especially in the heavy-duty transportation segment.

What is the return on investment for your technology? What’s the payback period?

Industry average with existing technologies (i.e., idling primary engines or utilizing fuel-powered auxiliary power units) is approximately three-and-a-half years, according to research company Frost & Sullivan. Our HYPER technology offers payback significantly less than one year for line haul drive cycles. Additionally, our HYPER unit functions while the vehicle is in motion, unlike any other commercial system, so there is additional payback associated with the elimination of the A/C compressor being driven off the engine.

There are several exemptions to many anti-idle laws that I see your company being able to address. Do you think systems like yours will become mandatory on idling vehicles in the future?

Legislation in the United States and Europe is already driving adoption of anti-idle technologies. Canada, Australia, India, China and other countries are not far behind in adopting and enforcing similar legislations. Other transportation sectors are adopting energy-efficient technologies that also contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases. In addition to all of the vehicles on the road or off road, HYPER technology is being considered by original equipment manufacturers because of its compelling value proposition for their own customers. Mandatory adoption will be driven by clean air legislation and by the market demanding energy efficient products on a global scale.

Jennifer Minelli

Jennifer manages the accelerating ventures program at MaRS, supporting high-growth ventures in the cleantech, health and information & communications technology (ICT) sectors.See more…