From Crain’s Chicago Business: The little engine that could, from HEVT

 - Heidi Lubin is CEO of Chicago-based startup Hybrid Electric Vehicles Technologies LLC. - Norbert von der Groeben
Heidi Lubin is CEO of Chicago-based startup Hybrid Electric Vehicles Technologies LLC.

Heidi Lubin is on a roll. Over the last year, the CEO of Hybrid Electric Vehicles Technologies LLC has led her Chicago-based startup to top-tier finishes in more than a half-dozen fast-pitch challenges, including first place and $250,000 in last fall’s Cleantech Open in California.

Her presentation is persuasive. But then that’s easier when the technology is truly breakthrough. HEVT’s co-inventors have designed a streamlined electric motor called a switched reluctance motor, or SRM, that long had eluded researchers because of problems with vibration and other issues, explains Ms. Lubin, 34, a polymath with a background in design, international policy, law and business. This construction provides higher starting torque, or force, and greater efficiency over a wide range of speeds.

In addition, whereas conventional electric motors require rare earth metals, which produce radioactive waste when mined and are found primarily in China, the innards of an SRM are made of widely available copper and steel. Because the materials are so common, Ms. Lubin says, “we can localize production wherever it’s needed.”

“She convinced us the impact of this technology could be tremendous because it could change everything we use in our daily lives, from washing machines to electric transportation,” says Annamaria Konya-Tannon, a serial entrepreneur, guest lecturer at Stanford University and national co-chair of judging for the Cleantech Open.

HEVT’s motor, combined with proprietary software the team developed, is being tested for use in many areas, including household products, pumps and electric transportation. Long term, it might become a motor for electric cars, too. Meanwhile, the company just inked a deal to incorporate the technology in electric bikes, Ms. Lubin says.

A Chicago native, Ms. Lubin was doing graduate research in electrified transportation and environmental finance in 2008 as part of a joint MBA and law-degree program at Northwestern University when she met Ali Emadi, a co-inventor of the technology that led to HEVT’s formation. Mr. Emadi, a Ph.D. expert in power electronics and hybrid and electric vehicle design, started HEVT as a spinoff from the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Power Electronics and Motor Drives Laboratory in 2005.

Ms. Lubin became CEO in 2011. Now she’s overseeing a team of eight researchers on IIT’s South Side campus and in San Francisco to reduce the cost to the end user and drum up financing. So far, the company has raised almost $1 million from competitions, angel investors and a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“China’s control of this (rare earth metals) supply has the whole motor industry’s attention, and where that goes will have a big influence on the industry going forward,” says Tom Kappel, innovation leader at Danfoss Power Electronics in Loves Park, who mentored Ms. Lubin in preparation for the Clean Energy Challenge in Chicago last spring. “She knows how to convince investors why they should have an immediate interest in HEVT and write that check now.”

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