Torotrak acquires 20% of Flybrid Automotive Ltd

Torotrak acquires 20% of Flybrid Automotive Ltd, formalising successful partnership to deliver first-to-market flywheel hybrids

Leading consultants confirm considerable potential of Torotrak’s flywheel hybrid technology for buses, trucks, off-highway and passenger cars. Market for flywheel hybrids predicted to exceed four million units per year by 2020.

Independent analysis, data and charts are available at:   for the E4tech report for the Ricardo report

Torotrak (LSE: TRK) has acquired a 20% stake in flywheel hybrid innovator Flybrid Automotive Ltd (formerly Flybrid Systems LLP) with an option to acquire the remaining shares before the end of the calendar year. The transaction strengthens Torotrak’s ability to provide turnkey development and manufacture of complete flywheel hybrid systems for buses, trucks, passenger cars, commercial and off-highway vehicles. The company expects the deal will accelerate the adoption of its technology, which it says will be in fleet trials with bus operators later this year through an agreement with bus constructor Wrightbus.

Flybrid Automotive, a UK company owned by its founders Jon Hilton and Doug Cross, already has a successful long-term relationship with Torotrak, which uses Flybrid’s proven flywheel module in its Mechanical Kinetic Energy Recovery System (M-KERS). Widely considered to be the world-leader in flywheel hybrid technologies, which can recover up to 70% of braking energy for around a third the cost of battery electric hybrids, Flybrid has evaluation or development programmes with a wide range of vehicle manufacturers worldwide.

“As well as allowing us to accelerate the development of our M-KERS technology family, this acquisition will secure our access to what we believe is the most market-ready flywheel system available,” says Torotrak CEO, Jeremy Deering. “We now have the complete skill set, development resources and low-volume manufacturing expertise needed to help vehicle manufacturers, across a wide range of applications, introduce a technology that will allow them to significantly reduce CO2 emissions for a fraction of the cost and weight of conventional electric hybrids.”

Flybrid’s carbon fibre flywheel spins at up to 60,000 rpm in a near-perfect vacuum. Drive can be provided by the company’s CFT clutch-based transmission system or by Torotrak’s CVT (continuously variable transmission). Already proven in motorsport applications such as LMP1 sportscar racing, CFT KERS can provide up to 100 kW and 540 kJ of storage in a system that has a full wet weight, including the electro-hydraulic control system, of less than 40kg. “CFT KERS scales down very well so could open-up a new market for small, low-cost automotive hybrids,” says Hilton. “It’s a good fit with Torotrak’s CVT, which is ideal for higher power systems and is already central to several of our customer programmes.”

Flybrid’s impressive portfolio of development programmes includes Volvo Cars (which uses Torotrak’s CVT), Wrightbus, two manufacturers of off-highway vehicles and several motorsport constructors. Evaluation programmes are ongoing with several other vehicle manufacturers across a wide range of sectors including passenger cars. Flybrid says that if these relationships continue to progress as planned, their technology could be specified for a production vehicle by 2016. Torotrak’s investment will provide additional resources to help secure this timing.

Deering sees these relationships as also offering considerable potential to extend the reach of Torotrak’s other technologies, particularly the company’s high-efficiency transmissions and low-cost, variable drive pressurecharging system. “Working more closely together allows a unified approach to customers and a strengthened ability to support them from development engineering through to supply of product,” he commented.

Flybrid’s John Hilton also sees synergies in technology and manufacturing. “Both technologies use high speed rotating assemblies of precision machined components and the electronic and hydraulic control systems are so similar that a single control unit can be used to control either product,” he says. “These shared aspects will help the combined companies develop more quickly and at a lower cost than either party could on its own.”

Doug Cross, Flybrid’s co-founder and technical director added: “today’s investment means that Flybrid will be able to grow faster and further, taking our products to market sooner and creating more skilled jobs in the UK.”

Strategic consultants confirm technology’s potential

In an independent report on flywheel hybrid technologies, commissioned by Torotrak, Ricardo Strategic Consulting concluded that pure mechanical flywheel hybrids promise similar fuel economy and CO2 benefits to electric hybrids but at around one third the cost. Looking in more detail at the issues associated with conventional electric hybrid technologies, Ricardo added; ‘The purely mechanical flywheel system also eliminates the cost and price instability of exotic metals, the end-of-life costs of batteries, the need to train dealers and bodyshops to work safely with high voltages and several other significant penalties of traditional high-voltage solutions.’ The report forecasts that in the heavy duty commercial vehicle market, pure mechanical flywheel hybrids ‘appear to be one of the most cost-effective powertrain technologies for reducing CO2.’

This view is supported by E4tech, an independent research consultancy specialising in sustainable energy and low carbon vehicles (advisors to the UK Government’s Department of Transport). Their research concludes that the Flybrid technology is well suited to the bus market, medium volume market entry in the commercial vehicle market and to some sectors of passenger cars, saying that it can match or improve upon electric hybrid fuel economy improvements of at least 15 per cent.  Their view is that the considerably reduced costs would enable it to become an established low carbon technology ahead of likely fuel cell mass-market adoption.

In passenger car applications, pure mechanical flywheel hybrid technology could reduce emissions of CO2 by up to 30 g/km at a cost of around £20 per gram, says Ricardo. This compares favourably with their estimate of £20 – £45 per gram for enhanced Internal Combustion Engine technologies and up to £90 per gram for electric hybrids.

Jon Hilton believes that CO2 reduction and fuel economy improvement, which are closely related, are by far the most urgent drivers across almost every vehicle sector.  “Passenger car manufacturers are now making decisions about which technology to invest in as they prepare for very challenging 2020 emissions targets in Europe and 2016 / 2025 fuel economy targets in the US,” he explains. “We believe that purely-mechanical flywheel hybrids can significantly cut the cost of compliance using modular technology that can be quickly integrated and doesn’t require any enabling investments or other technology steps.”

Strong global market forecasts

Torotrak expects the first application of pure-mechanical flywheel hybrid technology will be in the urban commercial vehicle market, where benefits are strongest and volumes can be managed through existing relationships. In the mid-sized UK bus market alone, there are 3,000 new vehicles each year and an existing fleet, with retrofit potential, of 50,000 vehicles. There are also substantial opportunities with other fleets that operate a stop-start drive cycle such as urban delivery vehicles and refuse vehicles.

In the passenger car sector, the Ricardo report forecasts penetration levels of 0.4% – 3.8% by 2020, offering potential volumes of up to four million units per year. As well as affordable hybrids, these could include high-performance cars where the ability to release energy very quickly (more quickly than batteries) provides an attractive, differentiating ‘press to pass’ function.

Torotrak’s Jeremy Deering points out that the combination of the recent strengthening of the company’s high-precision manufacturing capability, together with joining forces with Flybrid’s own supply capability, means they can jointly support volumes from prototypes and fleet trials up to around 20,000 units a year, at which point the technology becomes attractive to global first tier partners: “We have the capability to work with vehicle manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers from specific application development through to medium volume supply; our strong financial backing will help establish a strong first to market position.”

John Hilton concludes: “We are delighted by just how positive the consultants’ reports are, both about the market potential for flywheel hybrids and about the compelling performance of our technology.”

About Torotrak

Torotrak (LSE: TRK) is the leading global developer of gearless traction drive technologies, focussing on applications that increase efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions in vehicles. These include the V-Charge variable-drive supercharger, engine auxiliary drives, IVT and CVT main drive transmissions and a variable speed transmission that enables efficient energy recovery using a mechanically-driven flywheel (M-KERS). The company’s engineering team works with proven, global tier one technology partners to provide a validated route from prototypes to production. Customers include major vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers in the light duty, heavy duty and off-highway sectors.