Waukesha manufacturer testing next-generation hybrid utility trucks

DUECO Inc., a Waukesha-based manufacturer of aerial lifts, diggers, cranes and other equipment trucks used by utilities across the nation, recently built its seventh plug-in hybrid truck designed for the utility market. The truck’s hybrid system is recharged both while its engine is operating and when it is plugged in at night, said Joseph Dalum, the company’s vice president.

"Our system is a parallel system – the diesel or gas engine runs in combination with the electric motor which is powered by a large battery system," he said. "The trucks accelerate with power from both the diesel and electric motors."

The new truck, a digger/derrick, uses both a conventional diesel-powered power train and a plug-in battery system. All of the hybrid vehicles DUECO has produced to date use their batteries and electric motors to power their hydraulic systems. The hybrid system operates much more quietly than traditional utility trucks, Dalum said.  "Everything is being powered by the large battery," he said. "The aerial device, electronics and hydraulic pump, the electrical air conditioning system. We’re trying to eliminate any reason to idle at the job site."

The company estimates that its hybrid trucks will use half of the fuel that a typical utility truck uses now. During periods of heavy use, the truck’s motor will automatically turn on, so that its hydraulics are powered by both electric and diesel power, Dalum said. To date, DUECO has produced five aerial devices, a telecommunications repair unit and the digger/derrick that are powered by its hybrid system. The units are being tested by DUECO and ODYNE Corp., a New York designer and manufacturer of hybrid power systems.

The hybrid technology for DUECO’s trucks has been developed by both companies since 2006, Dalum said. DUECO, which has produced seven hybrid trucks since October, 2007, anticipates building 25 hybrid trucks this year. While the trucks are still in the R&D stage, the company is receiving numerous requests for the vehicles already. "We’re seeing increased demand and interest in the system for three reasons – fuel costs, the desire (of utilities) to improve their environmental image and because of energy security issues. It’s also quieter, so you can hear people talk. It’s safer for line men."

DUECO has five facilities, in Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, South Dakota and Pennsylvania, aside from its Waukesha headquarters and operations. The company employs about 325 workers, with about 170 in Waukesha. DUECO projects relatively flat revenues for 2008. However, the company is hiring at least nine workers at its Waukesha headquarters. And with its focus on developing hybrid-powered utility trucks, the company feels like it has good growth potential in the future.

"The focus is on R&D, testing and validation in the field now," Dalun said. "But the goal is to scale production up significantly in future years. There are many applications well beyond utilities."

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