Breakdown: Each engine module has a pair of opposing cylinders and a single crankshaft between them. Two pistons within each cylinder move in opposite directions.
Giorgio Rizzoni, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Ohio State University, says the OPOC engine “looks like a combination of different ideas, none of which are absolutely revolutionary.” Opposed-piston engines have been used in airplanes and motorcycles, he notes, while electric turbochargers have been around for years as a way to improve the performance of turbo engines. What strikes Rizzoni as different is the new engine’s “synthesis of old ideas” combined with a dual-piston arrangement.
EcoMotors, which secured an $18 million development deal with China-based automotive supplier Zhongding in May, is one of several young companies working to update the internal combustion engine ahead of stricter fuel economy standards. A number of them, including San Diego-based Achates Power, are focused on two-stroke architectures. “In the mid-’90s, people thought two-stroke engines really couldn’t meet emissions standards,” says Achates CEO David Johnson.
Dave Hurst, a senior analyst at Pike Research, which specializes in energy technologies, says the biggest challenge for any engine startup hoping to license innovations to major automakers is that these would-be customers consider engines to be their core technology, and are therefore more likely to design new engines themselves.
At this point, says Runkle, EcoMotors is working to refine the engine’s combustion process and determine emissions, efficiency, and power in all possible circumstances. Most car companies, he explained, will want to see that data before making the leap to implement EcoMotors’s technology.
Although EcoMotors aims to secure licensing and codevelopment deals, the company also hopes to do at least some manufacturing itself. EcoMotors has requested $208 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy to support that effort, and according to Runkle, the company expects to get into manufacturing over the next two or three years.