Tennessee researcher changing the face of fuel economy

Elizabeth Prann reports from Atlanta


A group of Tennessee researchers and graduate students are changing the face of fuel economy. They are designing a unique, plug-in hybrid retrofit kit that works on any vehicle on the road, potentially saving those who make the investment 50-100 percent on in town fuel costs.

The system is compact using electromagnets which fit between the back wheels and the brakes. Dr. Charles Perry at Middle Tennessee State University has built a prototype from a decade-old Honda Accord which he has converted to a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle.

“It's a relatively low powered solution -- just for use in town” Perry said. “Low power means lower cost, lower components and batteries that don't have to be as big. The controllers don't have to be so robust -- all of that gives us low cost and simplicity which we think will give us an edge in the market.”

Perry says other inventors have come up with similar solutions but they’ve been expensive and force mechanics to alter the car. His solution is completely unique. It doesn’t change anything about the vehicle. The electromagnetic magnets are placed in the brake system and the battery pack sits in the trunk of the car. It’s the first of a kind.

The gas mileage while driving below 40 mph could improve by 50-100 percent and Perry is aiming for a price  of about $3,000.  

This technology could have a drastic effect on the pressure folks are feeling at the pump. For years, hybrid technology has only been found in new vehicles. Car owners, who had older gas-powered cars, didn’t have the option of retrofitting to hybrid technology.

Brent Brubaker is an MTSU graduate student and is also the lead electrical engineer on the project. He thinks the design could be on the roadway in the next year or two and will be welcome relief for a lot of drivers.  

“The good thing about it is, it can apply to everybody,” Brubaker said. “You can fit this on any car with no modifications and you don't have to weld anything. You just get longer bolts and stick it on.  It's universally adaptable and can charge it on the wall socket at home.”

Dr. Charles Perry’s team is not the only one hard at work on a retrofit hybrid solution. Protean Electric, a company based in Michigan, is working on developing similar technology.  

But Perry says his prototype would be relatively inexpensive and transparent -- meaning it won’t affect the car’s performance.  And his invention is part of an emerging trend bridging the gap between gas and diesel powered vehicle to hybrid technology.  

“It's a transition,” Perry said. “Ten years from now so many cars will come from the manufacturer with plug in hybrid; you won't want a retro fit. So in the mean time this gives people an opportunity to take advantage of the plug-in hybrid approach without buying a new car.”

Elizabeth Prann currently serves as a Washington-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). She joined the network in 2006 as a production assistant. Click here for more information on Elizabeth Prann