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VOL. 37 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 22, 2013

MTSU a key player in revolutionizing industry

By Tony Troiano

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MTSU professor Charles Perry accumulates patents like a kid collecting baseball cards.

His collection to date: 42.

One of his inventions that has yet to jump through all of the patent hoops could have immeasurable impact on the automobile industry and the environment.

Perry’s Plug-in Hybrid Retrofit Kit converts a standard car into a hybrid, doubling the average mile per gallon of fuel for the vehicle, he says.

“It is green technology, and that is a major part of the future,’’ says Perry, an electrical engineer and holder of the Russell Chair of Manufacturing Excellent at Middle Tennessee State University.

“What we are doing is reducing the carbon footprint and making travel more economical.’’

It began with a station wagon

Perry took a 1994 Honda station wagon and implemented electric motors in each rear wheel with a lithium-ion battery mounted in the back of the vehicle. Installation is between the brake mechanism and hub.

Fuel consumption is diminished by using the motors to augment power generated by the internal-combustion engine.

The outcome with the station wagon: an increase in gas mileage of between 50 and 100 percent.

With an undergraduate and master’s degree from MTSU, a doctorate from Vanderbilt and 28 years of working at IBM behind him, Perry blends experience, knowledge and a love for teaching, bringing his students into the process with hands-on learning.

“This program started in 2008 and incorporates the collaboration of a number of students and faculty,’’ Perry says. “I am very appreciative of everyone who has, and is, working on the kit. We would not be at the point where we are now without their contributions.”

“I am a big believer in this program,’’ says Jay Perry, a graduate student and no relation to his professor. “You have theory and hands-on work. This is the future, and I am proud to make a contribution.”

In search of partners

Perry says MTSU is approximately a year or two from producing a commercial product, and he is working on establishing partnerships with industry and academia.

The idea is to go commercial, and the easiest entry into the market has been identified as the medium truck industry. It is a target-rich environment with large fleet clients such as the postal service, UPS and FedEx.

FedEx has donated two trucks to the school. The kit itself is designed for “in-town” movement rather than interstate travel.

“Not everyone can be Gatorade,” says Perry, referencing the sport drink from the 60s that led to a new industry.

“There is funding, work and then, attempting to gain the patent. Transferring technology to a commercial product can be like walking through the Valley of Death. Sure, you get frustrated, but you cannot give up.”

No one is bailing on the program. Not only does the kit have the potential to benefit consumers and the environment, but it is serving as an excellent platform for MTSU engineering technology scholars, working on graduate degrees, to utilize their knowledge and skills.

“We are coming up with a viable solution for getting the most efficiency between electric and fossil fuel,” says Brent Brubaker of Franklin. “What we are doing can be modified to fit anything and it is affordable.”

Professor Perry sees an advantage for his university and department in pushing forward with the kit.

“I care deeply about MTSU” he says. “My motive is visibility and prestige for the school and engineering technology. I want to get our name out there.”

It appears to be working. The retrofit kit has gained several awards and citations.

And people are taking notice, Perry says with a smile.

“I received an email from one lady who wanted to know when she could drop her car off to get the kit installed.”