Many people feel sorry for Ian Wright. One of the original founders of Tesla Motors, he cashed in his stock and quit the company in 2004. What a loser, right?
Actually, maybe not. Ian Wright may prove to be even smarter then Elon Musk when it comes to disrupting conventional wisdom, except he is doing it with garbage trucks rather than luxury automobiles. Why? It’s a simple matter of arithmetic, says Wright.
In an interview with the Orange County Register, he lays out his case like this. There are about 110,000 heavy duty garbage trucks currently working in the US. They only travel an average of 130 miles a day, but consumer 14,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.
Wright says he has invented a range extender turbine engine that can slash fuel costs by 60% and is cleaner than a pure electric vehicle. That’s hard to believe, but he is talking about the emissions that electric generating plants spew into the atmosphere. Today, the US still gets 50% of its electricity from coal. Recharging electric trucks from coal powered plants creates far more emissions than from his turbines, he argues.
His business is simple math. His trucks save fleet operators so much money, he expects to dominate the market in a few years. Since a heavy duty garbage truck has a useful life of 10 years, about 11,000 of them get replaced every year. His trucks sell for $200,000 (about the price of 2 Tesla Model S automobiles). $200,000 times 11,000 trucks results in a $2 billion dollar a year business that is self sustaining, because garbage gets picked up in all communities regardless of what the economy does or what the weather is.
He believes his business is far more important that selling electric cars. If Toyota could double the gas mileage of its Prius from 50 mpg to 100 mpg, Wright says that would only save as much fuel as raising the mileage of a heavy duty truck from 10 mpg to 11.2 mpg. He says his electric trucks with turbine range extenders raise average fuel economy by far more than that.
The secret to his turbine range extender is that it is not coupled to the drivetrain, so it is free to spin at its most efficient speed at all times. Wright says his design results in the most efficient combustion engine in the world. “Whether [the truck is] idling, accelerating, decelerating or running full speed, the turbine runs at the sweet spot. These engines are 10 times cleaner than the best piston engines.” Wright says.
He says his battery with range extender makes economic sense. “The problem is, you can’t carry enough battery. There isn’t room and there isn’t payload, and if you could find the room and payload, it’s a $500,000 battery, so it doesn’t pencil out.” FedEx is starting to use Wright’s trucks as are some trash haulers in northern California.
His business it gaining recognition and he likes where he thinks he will be in 5 years. He scoffs gently at those who buy Tesla’s luxury electric cars, comparing them to the people who bought Pet Rocks a generation ago. “The point is that some people will buy almost anything. For almost anything you want to try on the market, some fraction of the market will buy it just to try it out.”
Ian Wright is a most interesting fellow.