By Shannon Wells - The Beaverton Valley Times, March 1, 2012
Beaverton inventor develops kinetic-energy system to hybrid-ize cars and trucks
In a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, the untapped electrical energy from spinning wheels and friction is harnessed in moments – such as rolling downhill – when the engine is disengaged.
Steve Rosenstock wasn't exactly coasting when he hit upon his hybrid-conversion concept, but the frustration of a career lull inspired the Beaverton resident to think outside the box as an electrical-design innovator. He hopes his kinetic-energy recovery system – developed through the Beaverton-based Oregon Technology Business Center – will enhance the accessibility and affordability of alternative-fuel technology for cars and trucks.
After years of research, development and a seemingly endless bureaucratic paper chase, Rosenstock's Power Leveraging Utility System, or "PLUS," was approved by the U.S. Patent Office on Feb. 7.
Now he's seeking a licensing arrangement with a manufacturer that could market the system for after-market installation on passenger car and tractor-trailer engines.
For a price point around $500 and a couple hours of labor, a regular ol' gas-guzzler could be converted to gas-saving hybrid technology. And instead of idling the diesel engine while sleeping or resting at a truck stop, a long-haul trucker could use the battery-charging system to fuel heating, air conditioning and other electrical appliances.
The latter necessity helped inspire Rosenstock, 58, a largely self-taught electrical-design specialist who worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, General Dynamics Corp., and Shorepower Technologies, to develop his system.
He saw a bill in the Oregon House of Representatives – designed to reduce the time long-haul trucks can idle – as a catalyst to his development. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the bill into law Jan. 1.
The PLUS system provides a potential solution to the idling problem by allowing a way to harvest and store what Rosenstock calls "free return" energy – derived from coasting and braking – from the truck itself without adversely affecting the fuel mileage or the vehicle's drivability.
"Federal law mandates truck-drivers to 10-hour daily layovers," Rosenstock says. "The new law significantly reduces allowable idle time, which can mean disruptive and uncomfortable sleeping conditions. The technology helps compliance with the law and it saves money in fuel costs.
"This free energy can provide power for layovers instead of each truck burning 10 to 11 gallons of fuel per night."
Nothing fancy to look at, the prototype of the PLUS system uses mostly common auto parts – an alternator, heavy duty cables and relay switches among them – and is capped by an imposing storage battery about three times larger than a standard car battery.
Utilizing typically neglected extra capacity from a regular alternator, a series of electrical relay switches regulates the flow of power between the alternator, the wheels, braking system and storage battery. If space allows, the battery could be installed under a vehicle's hood or in the trunk, provided it's encased in a firewall for safety concerns.
"With the design I worked on, you can get the existing alternator to produce enough current to charge the battery," says Rosenstock, who learned electrical and aircraft fundamentals while serving in the U.S. Marines in the mid-1970s. "You're using kinetic energy and taking advantage of the motion of the vehicle."
Fueled by a job layoff and frustrations working with a "bad manager," his experiments in kinetic energy and regenerative braking started around 2003. Using relay switch-and-storage-battery-equipped vehicles such as a Nissan Sentra, a Volkswagen Vanagon and a Geo Metro, he'd drive west down Sylvan Hill on Highway 26 to generate and store energy.
"As soon as I switched in the relay that connected (the alternator and storage battery), the vehicle started slowing after five seconds or so," he says. "That told me we had just recovered excess kinetic energy. We were exchanging slowing down for electricity."
So, was that a breakthrough moment?
"I didn't know it at the time, but yeah," he sheepishly admits.
He used the resulting excess power to fuel household appliances in his living room.
"You've charged the battery after a day's worth of travel (leaving) 2 to 3 kilowatt hours of usage," he says. "I could power a couple of lights, a TV set and DVD player, until the (power) inverter shuts down, for a couple of hours."
While the 50 to 75 cents he saved each night seemed fairly meager, he extrapolated the power generated by large trucks would easily trump Vanagon or little Metro.
"Utility vehicles would be great for this," he remembers thinking.
"I tested out a (system) in my 1984 VW Vanagon and estimated that a commercial truck could possibly produce about 15 to 17 kilowatt hours in a 14-hour drive day," he says. "I believed that commercial systems would have a very quick return-on-investment and in this case would produce the highest level of emissions and noise control."
Steven Morris is executive director of the Oregon Technology Business Center on Creekside Place, where Rosenstock "graduated" as part of the 10-week Kaufman Foundation Entrepreneurship Program. He says he looks forward to seeing where Rosenstock's patent leads him.
"His challenge is to prove to a car company that the technology can do what he claims it does," Morris says. "If he does, then I suspect he will generate some interest."
Rosenstock's patent is the kind of achievement the center strives for and encourages through teaching marketing strategies and investor strategies involving fledgling inventors and innovators.
"I hope what we did was give him some of the tools to look at a couple different markets he looked at and determine where to start," Morris says.
Ideally, Rosenstock would like to get a licensing deal that would support a team of workers to further research and development in PLUS and other electrical and fuel-saving technologies. He would also like to be able to mentor – and provide stipends for – children and teens interested in science and aeronautics, as well as work with youth in groups such as 4-H.
While it's possible a large corporation such as Toyota could buy out his concept and suppress it from the market, Rosenstock would prefer the technology become part of the mainstream market.
"I'd rather see it continue on wherever it can do the best work, for commercial trucks and so on," he says. "That would be ideal."
After a varied, sometimes roller-coaster career working for others, Rosenstock – whose late father, David, received four patents for aeronautic systems – hopes his patent opens new horizons he can explore with others.
"It gets me working with other inventors, talking with people I wouldn't otherwise be associated with, trying to help each other out."
In other words?
"It's a dream."