ATLANTA. When the friendly, fresh-faced twenty-something Thomas Healy sat down next to me with his plate of food at Dana’s TMC press luncheon March 17, I figured he was a newbie journalist with one of the other truck industry publications.
“Who you with?” I asked.
“Hyliion,” came the response.
“Oh, you’re with a presenting company,” I said. “On the p.r./marketing team?”
“Founder and CEO.”
So much for my instincts. Truth be told, few people, including Healy himself, could have known that in about a three-year span he would go from tinkering with a junkyard diesel axle to creating state-of-the-art electric-hybrid architecture that he asserts optimizes truck fuel savings and vehicle performance for reduced emissions and a better driver experience.
Not bad for a 26-year-old.
Healy’s vision for Hyliion (pronounced HY-leon, for hybrid-lithium-ion) started about three years ago when he and a couple of pals at Carnegie Mellon University set out to try and create something new, and did — a regenerative braking device that can be installed on long-haul trucks to capture otherwise wasted energy and reduce fuel use by 30%.
“I had a concept and a vision to bring hybrid-electric technology to the trucking industry,” he said. “For our first-ever prototype, we went to a junkyard, grabbed a diesel axle off of a truck and brought it to a shop. We had about a 1,000-sq.-ft. facility, no heat, no air conditioning, just a place where they used to build locomotives. We strapped a motor onto it with a rubber belt-driven propulsion onto an electric motor and that was our first prototype. Since Day 1 of the inception of Hyliion it’s been on Dana axles.”
Healy explains the system this way.
“Right behind the cab we mount on a battery box, a cooling system and a controls box,” he said. “The way it works is that when a truck is slowing down or going down a hill, the electric axle kicks in and does regenerative braking that captures energy and charges up the battery pack. When the vehicle accelerates or goes uphill you still use diesel power but we also kick in the electric axle and help take some of the load off the diesel engine to reduce fuel consumption.
“Fast forward to now and we’ve got a company with over 60 people in it. We just signed a partnership with Dana where they’re going to be supplying solutions to us. So we’ve come a long, long way in just three years.”
Healy was in the right place at the right time with the right idea as well.
“There have been hybrid projects in the past for heavy-duty trucking, but 10 years ago is roughly when it was tried,” he noted. “The problem back then was battery technology and electric motor technology weren’t at a place yet where it was ready for volume production. Battery costs were tremendously higher then, and electric motors were not as readily available. Thanks to Tesla, the bringing on of electric vehicles and the awareness of electrification, it’s caused components to become more readily available. And you can apply the technology to heavy-duty trucking. Now we build our own battery systems at Hyliion.”
Before Healy became involved with the technology of trucking he literally spent most of his youth in the driver’s seat.
“Growing up in Boston I spent most weekends racing at the racetrack,” he said. “I started in go-karts at age 8, then moved up to formula cars and sports cars. It was what I did all the time until college. It exposed me to the trucking industry to a degree because all of our racing equipment was shipped on 18-wheelers. In college, I traded the racing helmet for a football helmet (he was a punter). I decided when I was getting a master’s degree in mechanical engineering to see if we could take some of these new technologies coming out and apply them to an industry that is perfect for them.”
So what’s life like now for someone running a company at an age when most people are just starting to figure out their careers?
“I’m busy but do have a girlfriend,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t have as much free time as she would like.”
His day to day is spent working with Dana quite a bit, as well as overseeing the growth of Hyliion.
“From my end, I started with a five-guys-and-a-dog approach,” he said. “Now every new chapter is a new evolution of the company. We do things extremely fast-paced, with a ton of motivated people. That makes it a hell of a lot easier. The team believes in what we’re doing. We’ve raised almost $50 million in funding. We’ve got large supporters seeing the same visions we do. It would be impossible without them.
“I’m now involved on a higher level than just product development, concentrating on where we are headed from a vision standpoint. We have customers asking for even more electrification. Fleet owners tell us they know electrification is coming. They’re just not sure what the solution will be for their fleets.”