Inventev Nabs $500K Grant to Test Mobile Power Generation Technology

Inventev, the Detroit-based cleantech startup working on mobile power generation via plug-in hybrid electric vehicle architecture, announced Monday that it has snagged a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Inventev’s CEO and founder, Dave Stenson, said the company will use the money to model, develop, and test key elements of its drive system for commercial, medium-duty trucks.

Inventev isn’t in the business of manufacturing vehicles. Rather, it produces new, integrated transmissions with power-generation and power-storage capabilities. Stenson said Inventev’s technology revolves around next-generation propulsion and controls. Take, for instance, the commercial trucks used by utility companies that come equipped with “buckets” for repairing power lines. After being fitted with Inventev’s system, those commercial trucks run like “a Chevy Volt on steroids” while in motion, he said, and generate flexible, grid-quality power when stationary.

Typically, when medium-duty utility trucks are in the middle of a job, the vehicle sits idling—sometimes for hours—creating pollution and wasting gas. (The truck needs to be running in order to power the aerial lift.) When modified with Inventev’s system, commercial trucks can power the hydraulics needed to raise and lower the aerial lift without idling, Stenson said.

The company plans to use the new DOE grant in a 12-month, $750,000 demonstration project showcasing the company’s Energy SWAT Truck, with the base vehicle chassis provided by a Ford F-550. “We remove [the original equipment manufacturer’s] transmission and put ours in,” Stenson explained. In addition to Ford, demonstration project partners include Pacific Gas & Electric, which is providing the test vehicle; A123 Systems; BorgWarner; NextEnergy; Product Assembly Group; and Landi Renzo.

Stenson said the DOE grant, awarded under the ARPA-E program, will complete half of Inventev’s seed funding round, which it hopes to close by summer before moving on to a Series A round. Since launching in 2011, the company has also won a $50,000 MATch Energy Grant from NextEnergy, a $5,000 prize in the 2014 Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest business plan competition, and a $25,000 cleantech prize in the 2014 Accelerate Michigan competition.

Before he started Inventev, Stenson had a 30-year career with GM, mostly in engineering and product development. He also served as chief technical officer on the Hummer spin-off team, leaving in 2010 after the deal to sell the brand fell apart. During Inventev’s early days, when it was applying for patents and incubating at TechTown Detroit, he tried to understand the nuances of the market and figure out where the need was.

“I left Hummer with thoughts of what’s new in the truck world that I might be interested in,” Stenson said. “We had been exploring the hybridization of the Hummer platform. So I thought, ‘If I were to hybridize a truck of that size, how would I do it? How can I offer a lower-cost, higher-capability system than what the market is offering?’ That’s where the idea for a multi-functional vehicle came from.”

He also wanted to avoid competing with the Big Three, which is how he ended up focusing on the kinds of medium-duty trucks used by landscaping, utility, and cable companies. The DOE grant, Stenson said, is a huge boost to the credibility of Inventev’s technology.

“We’ve gone through a number of stages during the conceptual phase,” Stenson added. “We’re very excited to break out of that, get into the hardware stage, and have the funding to build a prototype.”

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