In fall of 2009 VanDyne SuperTurbo spun out from parent company Woodward Governor to itspromising fate as a business in the center of the nation’s new energy revolution.
In September of 2009, Ed VanDyne presented his brainchild and new company to a Boston audience at the 23rd CleanTech Forum for capital investors. A few months later, on Dec. 11, the company was recognized as a top innovator at the New Venture Summit in New England, one of the most prestigious events for technology, life sciences and clean-tech sectors. And morerecently — still less than a year from the launch from Woodward Governor — the U.S.
Department of Energy awarded a Supertruck grant of $54 million to truck engine manufacturerCummins, whose advanced technology power trains and efficiency will rely on VanDyne
SuperTurbos. Indeed, the young company’s progress is breaking records on a fast track.When you can catch him, CEO Ed VanDyne is pleased to speak of his dream coming true, andwhy now is the time for all like-minded investors to rally.
The promising prototypes are turbochargers with transmission added, combining the low speed performance of a super charger with the energy extraction capability of turbo compounding. In non-engine speak, this translates to improvements of at least a third in fuel efficiency, horsepower and greatly reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
“We are the first to figure out how to utilize energy from the exhaust heat to boost power whilecleaning the output,” VanDyne said of his patented technology. Efficiency comes from high andlow-end bursts of speed and power.
VanDyne SuperTurbo CFO Greg Fuhrman, who also attended the CleanTech Forum, said, “Wewouldn’t be in the ‘clean tech’ category except for the fact that we reduce CO2 emissions so well.” Each car with a SuperTurbo spares the planet about 4,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, and each SuperTurbo-equipped truck emits about 17 tons less.
VanDyne SuperTurbo has a staff of 11 engineers and 4 support people, contracts for prototypesfor a European automobile manufacturer, an American producer of vehicles for agriculture, and Cummins. Prototypes have been delivered. The project engines have been moved from Woodward Governor’s laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo., to Colorado State University’s Engines and Conversion Laboratory, in Fort Collins’ historic brick power station near the Poudre River.
In 1992 the city of Fort Collins gave the lab to CSU. With dynamometers, spectrometers andbright minds busy at work, dozens of clean-energy projects are gaining strength there. “The Engine Lab is the confluence of several important things,” explained Morgan DeFoort, Associate Director of the CSU lab. Those things include proximity to the river and the city’s power grid, as well as a convergence of ideas that confront the global energy challenge from different vantage points. Funded by various sponsors, projects include cleaner, safer cook stoves for the developing world and biofuels made from algae. In the busy mix, a VanDyne SuperTurbo is attached to an engine that instantly delivers diesel power to supplement fluctuations in an energy grid based on renewable sources like wind and sun.
Automobiles are where VanDyne began, but the implications for his SuperTurbo go far beyond.
Engine efficiency and innovation has been Ed VanDyne’s career focus since his days at MIT, when he invented the SmartFire plasma ignition. After MIT, VanDyne founded Adrenaline Research, Inc., and SmartFire was its baby for 14 years.
“The SmartFire technology was almost adopted for the Bugatti Veyron (the most powerful, most expensive, and fastest street-legal car in the world),” VanDyne said, but financial negotiations with key player Motorola sullied the deal. Then steady customer Woodward Governor brought SmartFire into its fold. Woodward Governor is a world leader in energy-control solutions for aircraft and industrial engines, and turbines. VanDyne accepted the offer to be Head of Research for the company.
Not long into his new role at Woodward Governor, company president Tom Gendron shared his idea for a more efficient turbo with VanDyne. Enhancing the idea, VanDyne began work on SuperTurbo prototypes.
Woodward Governor’s focus is low-volume specialty products, but VanDyne’s Super Turbo is suited for automotive industry giants. He convinced Gendron to allow him to take his SuperTurbo and run with it. The board of Directors for Woodward Governor nurtured theproject, allowing VanDyne to use the test lab and other resources.
Next, VanDyne secured a position with the Rocky Mountain Innovation Institute (RMI2), the business incubator for Northern Colorado. He also secured investment from a Boulder-based company. About $1.2 million of capital has been raised thus far, and VanDyne is looking to angel investors for more. He predicts getting the company to its break-even point in 2013, toprofit in 2014, and selling 700,000 SuperTurbos in 2015.
“Four years to break even is rocket-fast compared to most technologies,” VanDyne acknowledged, “But we’ve well proven that customers want it,” he pointed out, referring to his company’s steadily growing list of big-name contracts, including Woodward Governor and Cummins.
While VanDyne’s work at the CSU Energy Lab portends an important role in the future of power grids, the big piñata of today is the automotive industry. This is just in time for the U.S. federal government’s mandate to auto manufacturers to make their fleets average 35 mpg by 2015 (today’s average is 27).
Putting the power of SuperTurbo in perspective, VanDyne explained that while the SmartFire gains 1 efficiency point per vehicle, a SuperTurbo gains 30 points. Also, it’s easy to integrate and costs the auto manufacturer under $500 per car. Actually, he said, the addition could be considered cost-neutral because it makes a 4-cylinder engine as powerful as a V-8, which means a sport utility vehicle can be well-powered with half of its usual engine and corresponding engine weight.
In the big picture, SUV-loving Americans could continue buying trucks and big cars, still drastically reducing miles per gallon for their fleets by the 2015 deadline. While he’s helping secure a future for efficient trucks in America, VanDyne looks to Europe to revolutionize medium and small cars.
“The auto industry is still healthy there,” he said. Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz and BMW are all doing fine in the global economy, with reputations of setting the mark for the automobile industry. Because of its high-efficiency diesel, Volkswagen has the highest average fuel economy in the world. Mercedes is world renowned for “small and smart,” VanDyne explained.
A German citizen employed by Van Dyne now lives in Fort Collins, and travels regularly to Europe to negotiate with German auto manufacturers. When deals are made, those cars will certainly also be sold to Americans.
“Germans are early adopters. They’re appreciative of the value that puts their cars ahead,” VanDyne said. He believes they’re motivated to find efficiency devices to keep their big cars and stand-out reputation for innovation. Without changing size, engine technology is key.
Regarding the rush to electric cars, VaDyne explained that a VanDyne SuperTurbo is much less expensive than an electric hybrid system. Adding batteries to cars costs a couple thousand dollars, while an auto manufacturer can install the SuperTurbo for a few hundred. Plus, it reduces the cost of the engine because of reduction in size.
“Existing turbocharger manufacturers suggest using two of their products instead of one, but this doesn’t offer the compounding effect that the SuperTurbo has by utilizing the exhaust,” VanDyne said, and it doesn’t eliminate tons of carbon dioxide emissions — a huge benefit to this new technology.
Meanwhile, back at the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, VanDyne is collaborating with other companies to create the power grid of the future.
Integrid is a joint venture between CSU and Spirae, a company that manages the grid system for the entire country of Denmark. Integrid is using a VanDyne SuperTurbo to respond to dips in power. It looks like this: When the power recedes, within a split second Integral’s equipment detects the variation and sends a signal to a giant engine equipped with a SuperTurbo, and fueled by diesel. The SuperTurbo pushes the diesel energy into the grid with such timing that lights never flicker. To complete the green picture, the petroleum diesel fuel can be replaced with biodiesel — In fact, another project sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Innovation Institute is Solix Biofuels, responsible for the algae being grown in bags suspended in pools behind fences in the parking lot of the CSU Engines Lab.
The biggest engine of all under the roof of the old power station dwarfs all others, though already three of its massive cylinders were cut away. It’s an engine used to pump natural gas at constant velocity across the countryside on its way to end users. These beasts number near 10,000 across America and account for some of the strange metal buildings seen in the midst of nowhere on road trips. Caterpillar is hopeful that SuperTurbos will greatly reduce the fuel the engines require to do their job of pipeline supply.
New Belgium Brewery, another partner at the Engines and Conversion Lab, is proving the vision of sustainability. Taste the future at the Fort Collins brewery — while behind the bar a
SuperTurbo-equipped engine is fueled by biodiesel made from post-recipe plant wastes. The parts not included in the beer are put into a mechanical digester, which creates methane, offsetting about 300 kilowatts for 10 hours of beer production per day.
With the parts and engine set-up thoroughly patented in VanDyne’s interest, and spin-off from Woodward Governor complete, one can imagine Ed VanDyne raising a frothy toast to the world’s new energy frontier, brewing in Northern Colorado.