Interviews

E-CO: the spin-off for ad hoc hybrid transformations


"Design, development, marketing, integration of hybrid and electric powertrain systems for land-driven vehicles of any nature, even scooters, to spread sustainable mobility with low or no environmental impact": this is what it does E-CO (Electric & Hybrid-Drive Company), a new spin off of the Politecnico di Milano. And the results are fully functional prototypes made with care, stubbornness and a high dose of ingenuity. Word of the president, Paolo Bernardini. Ferruccio Resta, R&D director, and Fabrizio Regis, production manager are believing with him.

1) How and when was E-co born and with what objective?

The socio-economic situation we are experiencing becomes an opportunity to focus on innovative technological solutions for the "automotive" system, greater energy efficiency and low polluting emissions. Furthermore, the electricity market is not yet ready, there is a lack of charging infrastructures, so it was necessary to give an immediate response to bridge this gap. ECHO was created precisely to meet this need, but from a perspective of economic sustainability and attention to the environment. Such as? Through the "hybrid transformations ad hoc”Of traditional (endothermic) vehicles according to some types of powertrain kits. E-CO is the industrial synthesis of the various transformation skills.

2) Who works there? Who finances?

The company brings together the many years of experience and the consolidated know-how of leading players such as Ireth, Mecaprom Technologies Corporation Italia and the Politecnico di Milano. Specifically, the latter will bring its vertical know-how in the mechatronics field in the research and development phase, Mecaprom Technologies will manage the industrialization and production part, Ireth will take care of the International Business Development aspects. Mecaprom and Ireth are the reference lenders, but once the industrial plan has been finalized, we will also resort to public and private funding.

3) What results are you aiming for? What difficulties will you face?

With ECHO you will immediately work on one introduction progressive of the hybrid technology destined for the market of companies and public bodies, to subsequently arrive at series production on some models. We will operate both in the production of bimodal kits and REV systems and their integration, also making use of agreed sales and assistance networks.

It will not be a walk in the park: we will have to overcome some obstacles not only technological-industrial-logistic, but financial. It is necessary to implement a prudent and sustainable financial plan, especially today, in a time of severe liquidity crisis.

4) What does the kit for hybrid vehicle conversion consist of? Who will you distribute them to?

ECHO develops two types: one allows the bimodal transformation, the other implements a system REV. The bimodal kit allows to couple to the conventional internal combustion engine an electric motor powered by lithium batteries that provides traction in three different modes: only with the internal combustion engine, only with the electric one or with both at the same time. In purely electric mode, the system allows you to travel up to 40 km with maximum speeds of 80km / h; once the electrical energy stored in the battery is finished, the vehicle can be recharged using the internal combustion engine or using any power outlet through the on-board charger.
The kit consists of an electric motor, an inverter, a lithium-ion battery, a battery charger and an electronic board that controls and coordinates the electric motor with the endothermic one. There are also other accessory elements such as a DCDC converter, inverter cooling system, etc.

The REV kit was created to allow hybrid integration on some vehicles, especially in original equipment: from light / heavy quadricycles and for mixed use up to City Cars, whose primary requirements are dictated by the low cost of both the powertrain and those of the vehicle itself as well as the low operating cost both in terms of specific consumption and ordinary and extraordinary maintenance. Our REV was therefore born with the aim of offering a high performance hybrid propulsion that encompasses these characteristics, without affecting the performance of the vehicle also through a clear limitation of weight increases, an aspect that today remains the biggest obstacle to face on the innovative propulsion.

The products will be aimed at both car manufacturers and the main OEMs - Original Equipment Manufacturers - of original equipment, as well as, as a retrofit, directly to all those who express interest in them both publicly and privately.

5) Why have many manufacturers not invested adequately in HEV? How will you support them?

Many manufacturers have had neither the economic resources nor the time to seriously address the market strategy that necessarily passes from the hybrid. It has been a long time since the partners of ECHO they are dedicated to the research and development of this technology and are now ready to transfer their know-how in an organized and industrial form. Our Engineering division will cooperate closely with car manufacturers or OEMs to release bimodal kits or REVs. Our products, being modular, will not require repeated R&D for each model, but simply "adjustments".

6) Why exactly in the Aosta Valley? Did you have favorable incentives or conditions? Which other Italian regions have similar conditions in the context in which you have undertaken the initiative?

In order to be able to proceed quickly, we have chosen to operate in a context favorable to the development of hi-tech initiatives for sustainable mobility, less "deafening" and polluted by the times of bureaucracies, closer to the company, which would allow us to work more focused and quick on the implementation of our activities. We glimpse in the Valle d'Aosta this fertile ground.

It also happens in other regions, where there are sector laws that facilitate business start-up. Certainly, efficient regions with special statutes, such as Trentino, facilitate hi-tech settlements like ours.

7) There is talk of three new productive settlements: where? What "sustainable" characteristics will they have?

The site in the Aosta Valley, which will be our point of reference, will privilege R&D, although it will have a productive lung capable of responding to the needs of transformations for both public and private corporate "corporate" customers. We must necessarily foresee two others, located in Far East specialized in massive (private) production of hybrid systems (and not only) in Joint-Venture with OEMs: this for the obvious reasons of expanding production capacities and rationalizing costs.

Our plan is ambitious. We are perfectly aware that it must be implemented with care and professionalism, proceeding gradually.

Interview byMarta Abbà

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