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Keep on Trucking

engineering / alumni

As founder and CEO of Hyliion, Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Thomas Healy has designs on revolutionizing the shipping industry by modifying the country’s 6 million tractor-trailers to save energy.

“Hyliion’s business model can have a positive impact on the world, through emission reduction, by hybridizing 18-wheelers,” Healy said.

Hyliion adds an electric motor battery pack underneath the trailer, which captures energy wasted when a truck decelerates and reuses it to help the vehicle when accelerating, also known as regenerative breaking. When the driver is sleeping, the system provides power to run air conditioning and refrigeration rather than relying on idling the diesel engine.

The hybrid system replaces the truck’s current suspension system and can be installed in under an hour. It is expected to be commercially available later this year.

“Eight bolts on, eight bolts off,” Healy said describing the quick installation.

The system could reduce fuel consumption by 30 percent, saving the trucking industry an estimated $50 billion in annual fuel costs and reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent, according to Healy, who earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and engineering and public policy in 2014.

Hyliion also provides data analytics and heat maps that suggest fuel-efficient routes.

The company has about 30 employees, including several members of the original team. Healy said the workforce will double or even triple within the coming year, and Hyliion will increase production at its two facilities in western Pennsylvania and Texas — from hundreds of units this fall to thousands of units in 2018.

The company has won a dozen national awards, including $50,000 in the 2015 U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan competition. Earlier this year, “Forbes Magazine” recognized Healy in the energy sector of its annual 30 Under 30 series.

David Meyers, a trucker who test drove the system, said it did an exceptional job.

“We took it up a four-lane highway which is steep enough with an empty tractor trailer that I started to lose a little steam. And when I started to take my foot off the throttle, the trailer actually pushed the truck up the hill,” Meyers said. “I didn’t even feel the motor kick in, it just happened so smoothly.”

The idea came from Healy’s first car, a Honda Civic Hybrid, which used gauges to show wasted energy. He wondered if the hybrid system could apply to trucks.

Healy developed the concept in the course Energy Systems, with classmates Hayden Cardiff, a 2016 graduate from the Tepper School of Business, Charlie Aguilar, who will graduate in 2018 with a master’s degree in engineering, and Wilson Sa, who graduated in 2015 with a degree in engineering.

Jay Apt, co-director of Carnegie Mellon's Electricity Industry Center and a professor in the Tepper School of Business and the Department Engineering and Public Policy, taught the course.

“The idea benefitted from a lot of oral and written feedback in the course and was well developed by the end of the semester,” Apt said. “Competition is fierce in the transportation sector, and Hyliion can give a cost advantage to companies that use their solution.”

Healy said the class focused on good business economics.

Companies will use a system that quickly pays for itself through fuel savings. Economically, it’s a no brainer,” he said.