Startup Spawns a New Idea for Electric Vehicle Powertrains

May 1, 2009
Electric vehicles are certainly not a new idea, but in the past few years, companies have become more serious about building them for mass consumption.

Electric vehicles are certainly not a new idea, but in the past few years, companies have become more serious about building them for mass consumption. As sometimes happens, certain companies can look at old ideas in new ways. Such is the case with Adura, which recently announced its “new era electric powertrain” called MESA. MESA stands for modular, electronic, scalable architecture. Essentially, Adura took a step back and created an electric powertrain from the ground up. I had a chance to speak with Adura's president and CEO, Marv Bush recently about MESA.

If you look at the way electric powertrains are traditionally built, it's really simple, Bush said. You can build electric cars with electric motors, converters, controllers and battery packs. This is essentially the way it's done by industry today. And since electric cars need to travel reasonable distances, nearly all of the IP being developed today is around battery pack or energy storage solutions.

“State of the art is around seven thousand 18650 Lithium Ion cells,” Bush noted. “If you have to manage more than this, the problem scales exponentially in terms of managing the additional cells and heat. It's very difficult. So state of the art is about a 55 KW-hr battery pack. The problem is that the IP for electric power trains is difficult to optimize from a system level. That's what we've done.”

Adura has built its own electronics such as inverters and controllers from the ground up and also has new energy storage solutions in mind. Bush says that his company has looked at the problem from a much bigger perspective. Their original goal was to enable a bus to travel 100 miles on electric energy. They looked around and couldn't find an off-the shelf technology that would let them do that. So they created MESA. They also built a modular battery pack or energy source solution. Bush says it's a first in the world. MESA is also chemistry agnostic, which is another first.

“Being chemistry agnostic gives us some very unique advantages. It enables us to build energy storage solutions for applications involving different kinds of vehicles. Say you have a heavy-duty vehicle, such as a garbage truck. All it does is move from driveway to driveway. If we were to electrify that, we would need something that could release lots of energy very very fast and then recapture that energy very very fast from regenerative braking. The best solution for that today is super capacitors or ultra capacitors.”

Adura can mix super capacitors with high-energy density batteries, which would allow these trucks to go from driveway to driveway but, in addition, could provide enough energy for the truck to drive wherever it needed to go to dump its load and return home. If Adura wanted to, it could populate one battery pack with lithium cobalt oxide, another with lithium manganese, another with lithium iron phosphate and so forth. The electronics and software would take care of these different chemistries automatically.

The advantage comes when it's time to service the battery packs. If a battery pack had a problem, you could pull out the pack and replace it with any chemistry that was available at the time from any manufacturer, even if the replacement pack had higher voltage or amperage ratings. This means that MESA can minimize the cost of service. In addition, this energy storage system can be tailored on the fly for electric range. For example, suppose you had a heavy-duty vehicle that was part of a fleet. If it was used for a particular route, it could be easily re-configured to do a different route that might entail more or less mileage. The modular system allows you to add or remove battery packs from the system.

Adura has made its first impact in China with mass transportation hybrid buses, but obviously MESA is a solution for electric vehicle makers anywhere in the world. You can find out more about this architecture by pointing your browser to

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