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Hyliion buys 3D-printed mixed-fuel generator technology from GE

Conglomerate approached startup with ‘perfect fit’ technology

Hyliion is paying General Electric $37 million to buy its mixed-fuel 3D-printed generator technology. (Image: Hyliion)

Hyliion Holdings will pay General Electric Co. $37 million in cash and stock to acquire technology for a 3D-printed generator for its Hypertruck that will run on a mixture of low-carbon alternative fuels from natural gas to hydrogen and more than a dozen other fuels.

The fuel-agnostic approach evolves from Hyliion’s natural gas-powered generator that creates electricity for up to 75 miles in the Hypertruck ERX. The ERX begins fleet trials later this year and goes into production in late 2023.  Thypertruck Karno testing begins in the next couple quarters.

Slide showing Hyliion powertrain roadmap
Hyliion is starting with a natural gas-powered generator to make electricity for its Hypertruck ERX. Next comes fuel agnostic technology. And finally a hydrogen fuel cell-powered generation. (Image: Hyliion)

Hyliion (NASDAQ: HYLN) has more than 190 orders and 2,000 nonbinding reservations for the system. Hyliion installs the ERX in the Peterbilt Model 579 Class 8 tractors.

The company looked at several fuel-agnostic technologies. The generato eventually will evolve to a hydrogen-powered fuel cell to create electricity for long-haul freight movement.

Hyliion acquisition born of GE Aviation

The Karno generator emerged from GE Aviation’s long-running research and development investments in metal additive manufacturing. Hyliion will operate an office out of GE Aviation in Cincinnati when the deal closes. That is expected to occur in the fourth quarter.

“This started over a year ago when GE reached out and said this [Hypertruck] technology you are developing is a perfect fit if you want to use this Karno technology.,” Hyliion founder and CEO Thomas Healy told FreightWaves. ”We looked at other fuel-agnostic solutions as well and this ranked head and shoulders above anything else we saw,”

“Initially the plan was more of a supply agreement with GE,” he said. “As we started seeing more and more what the generator was able to do and the efficiencies and benefits, we proactively reached out to GE and asked whether there would be any interest in selling this to continue to develop it within our company.”

GE (NYSE: GE) continues as a major producer of 3D printers for metal parts. Hyliion will buy additive manufacturing machines from GE.

“What’s moving over to us is this innovative generator technology,” Healy said.

Former SPAC successes

With the acquisition, Hyliion becomes the second transportation startup that appears to have a bright future after going public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. Several cash-poor startups are seeking new money, merging or failing. 

Another former SPAC, Nikola Corp., is paying $144 million in stock to acquire SPAC-backed startup Romeo Power. That move secures its supply of battery packs, critical to its electric truck production.

‘Back to the Future’ technology?

The Karno generator can make electricity from a mixture of fuels ,” Healy said. It can run on up to 20 fuels in all — from diesel to gasoline to hydrogen. Karno’s thermal efficiency is a “staggering” 59%, Healy said. The generator will cost more upfront but create a solid return on investment for trucking fleets that adopt it.

Slide showing Hyliion ERX with callout of Karno generator
The Hyliion Karno generator technology will be more efficient and lighter than the natural gas generator Hyliion plans in its first iteration of the Hypertruck ERX. (Image: Hyliion)

The cost of the electricity generated is estimated at 7 cents a kilowatt hour. The national average is 12 cents.

“What we’re saying is we have this one box, this one generator and you can throw any of these fuels into it and it’s going to produce electricity out the other end,” Healy said. “It’s truly one design, one platform that can run on various fuels.

“It can actually handle mixtures of fuels so if someone wanted to combine part natural gas, part hydrogen or part diesel, part jet fuel, part gasoline, it will take that and adjust appropriately within the generator and produce electricity. So you can mix it together and it will work with it.”

Healy chuckled when asked whether Karno was comparable to the fictional garbage-gobbling flux capacitor in the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy.

“We’re not dealing with science fiction here,” he said.

Other power distribution uses

The Karno technology could find uses outside the truck, such as creating electricity to power localized charging stations at trucking fleets.

“We can plop these down and we can be the power source and we can make the electricity locally at that facility,” Healy said. “We’re not willing to say how the rollout of it would work. We are saying there are other opportunities other than just putting this in a truck.

“We know the customers in the trucking space really well,” he said. “And we know we can solve their problems, and that’s why we wanted to give that as an example.”

What about Hyliion’s partnership with Cummins?

Hyliion and engine maker Cummins Inc. recently announced a collaboration to certify Cummins’ 12-liter natural gas engine for the Hypertruck ERX. The engine maker plans to offer fuel-agnostic versions of its 15-liter engine, beginning with a natural gas-powered variant in 2024. 

“When Cummins says fuel-agnostic, they are saying they have an engine block and that block is universal across various fuels whether it’s diesel [or] natural gas,” Healy said. “The top end of the engine all changes. The engines are fundamentally different.”

But the Cummins 15-liter natural gas engine will likely find its way into future Hypertruck variants, Mike Taylor, Cummins general manager of global powertrain integration, told FreightWaves. 

That makes sense because the first committed manufacturing customer for the 15-liter natural gas engine is Paccar Inc., (NASDAQ: PCAR) maker of Peterbilt- and Kenworth-branded trucks.

“We’re going to evolve with the Cummins portfolio and work closely with them on what engines are coming,” Healy said. “And the 15-liter is on that road map.”

Cummins working with Hyliion on certifying natural gas engine

Hybrid revenue light as Hyliion builds orderbooks for Hypertruck ERX

Cummins to integrate Gatik’s autonomous driving tech into advanced powertrain 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.