Hybrid Powertrain Pioneer Inducted into the Innovation Hall of Fame

By KBB.com Editors on October 31, 2008 2:56 PM
Alex J. Severinsky has been named to the A. James Clark School of Engineering's Innovation Hall of Fame at the University of Maryland for his groundbreaking efforts in developing the gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle powertrain. A Russian emigre who arrived here in 1978, Severinsky received his doctorate in electrical engineering from Moscow's Institute for Precision Measurements in Radioelectronics and Physics. After watching America struggle as it attempted to deal with the impact of the ongoing Middle East oil crisis, he began work on a system that would help reduce the overall level of gasoline consumption in passenger cars.

Severinsky believed that the most effective route to that goal entailed using electric power, not on its own, but to supplement the vehicle's internal combustion engine. Shortly thereafter, he became involved with the Technology Advancement Program, a "venture incubator" at the Clark School's Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute. It was there, with the help of then Assistant Dean Herbert Rabin, that Severinsky subsequently established the Power-Assisted Internal Combustion Engine (PAICE) company to create his first working hybrid powertrain.

By 1992, Severinsky had begun filing the first of many patents on his Hyperdrive package. In October 1999, he went to Detroit and successfully demonstrated the capabilities of the PAICE system on a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. As it turned out, Toyota was working on a similar design for its soon-to-launch Prius. At that point, Severinsky took on the Japanese automaker in a patent infringement suit that was decided in his favor in 2005. Although litigation on the issue continues, Severinsky openly praises Toyota "for creating an unusual working environment in which in-house competition of ideas is fostered." He also owns a Prius, about which he is equally complementary.

What's next for this forward-thinking innovator? His latest startup, a company called Fuelcor, is seeking to use electronics to improve oil production by "making fuel instead of hunting for it." Launched in 2005, Fuelcor's mission is to synthetically manufacture hydrocarbon compounds from their ultimate products of decomposition -- carbon dioxide and water. According to Severinsky, Fuelcor is already in the early stages of commercialization on two continents. "This is the ultimate technology in transportation fuels," he says.