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Power Transportation

Looking To Better Engines Instead of Electric Vehicles 570

Posted by Soulskill
from the electrons-are-overrated dept.
hlovy writes "Don Runkle thinks it's engines, not batteries, that will make automobiles cleaner and more efficient. 'We unabashedly say that we have the best solution,' says Runkle, the CEO of Allen Park, MI-based engine developer EcoMotors International. The startup, which brought in $23 million in Series B financing this summer from Menlo Park, CA-based Khosla Ventures and Seattle billionaire Bill Gates, has designed an opposing piston, opposing cylinder engine that uses fewer parts than traditional motors do and generates more power from each stroke of the engine, CEO Runkle says. He says the 'opoc' engine is smaller, lighter, and less expensive than the motors already out there, and a more viable option than switching automobile fleets over to electrical power."
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Looking To Better Engines Instead of Electric Vehicles

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  • energy density (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:40PM (#34091788)

    When you can store energy as densely as liquid hydrocarbon, you'll have a successful electric car.

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      Is there any method of building hydrocarbons with base compounds and electricity? Maybe we just need synthetic gasoline powered by electricity. Solves nobody's problems, but it's an interesting idea to me.

      • by gatzke (2977)

        You can make H2 from water and electricity, but the conversion efficiency is bad.

        You can make H2 from high temp (nuke or solar) cycles for better efficiency.

        You need to compress/cool H2 to store it liquid form and that loses efficiency.

        You can grow biomass and convert it to liquid hydrocarbons.

        There are some methods for converting CO2 to hydrocarbons, but they are usually inefficient.

        We are stuck with coal and oil for a few centuries, methinks...

        • Re:energy density (Score:5, Insightful)

          by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:12PM (#34092258)

          We are stuck with coal and oil for a few centuries, methinks...

          50 years max.

          It's only a matter of time before we can engineer plants or processes which mimic the photosynthetic process or tweak it to minimize the amount of afterprocessing for biofuels.

          We can put jellyfish genes in piglets, make goats produce similar proteins to spiders, eventually we are going to figure out a way to have refinery plants that consist of... plants.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by TubeSteak (669689)

            50 years max.

            It's only a matter of time before we can engineer plants or processes which mimic the photosynthetic process or tweak it to minimize the amount of afterprocessing for biofuels.

            What makes you think the company licensing the patent is going to allow [alternative] to be produced for less than the price of oil?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Algae biodiesel reactors today produce over 40% fuel by mass, it's relatively cheap and easy to separate out, and the remaining 60% can be used to feed animals as a protein supplement or converted to ethanol through a process similar to that used to process corn.
      • Fischer-Tropsch [wikipedia.org]. But it's not very efficient.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Wyatt Earp (1029)

        Yes, we can

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer [wikipedia.org]–Tropsch_process

        When the USAF tried to get Congress to let them build a plant in Montana it has been blocked by Congress because it doesn't reduce CO2 emissions, however some processes can be near carbon neutral, Henry Waxman won't allow it unless it's carbon negative

        http://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/aviation/us-air-force-syntheticfuel-program-in-limbo [ieee.org]

        With the House going Republican, I bet the USAF project comes back to life in '11-13

    • Re:energy density (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nadaka (224565) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:45PM (#34091860)

      It isn't a flat limit, for sufficiently cheap power you can compromise on density.

      Better engines and hybrids make sense as long as gas remains a viable fuel. At some point in this century it likely will not be a viable fuel unless we perfect synthetic gas cheaply without compromising our farmland.

    • You are assuming that the driving paradigm doesn't change. I used to think the same thing until I realized that the vast manjority of people could do just fine with either a volt style hybrid with ICE backup or simply by using a 100 mile range electric and renting a car for long trips. I drive 70 miles to work 3 days a week and I could still do electric if they get the range up too 150 miles (with overnight charges).

      I literally cannot remember the last time I needed to drive father than 150 miles in a singl

    • When you can store energy as densely as liquid hydrocarbon, you'll have a successful electric car.

      Correction: when the energy density times usage efficiency for electricity is comparable to that of a liquid hydrocarbon fuelled car THEN you'll have a successful electric car. Petrol engines are far less efficient at converting the stored energy into mechanical motion, and recapturing that mechanical energy when breaking, than electric motors which is the only reason that electric cars are even thinkable with current technology.

  • So (Score:5, Insightful)

    by santax (1541065) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:42PM (#34091804)
    An engine-developer and seller tells us that the future is in the engines that he happens to be able to sell you. Didn't see that one coming.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Balthisar (649688)

      It either works as said or doesn't, and he'll either sell engines or not. That's how markets work.

      • Re:So (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cgenman (325138) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:25PM (#34092430) Homepage

        He'll either convince some executive MBA somewhere without an engineering degree that it's a visionary future for their company, or he won't. That executive will run off and commit to using it in all of their 201X cars in exchange for an exclusive. That car company will then ship a series of cars that in practice will have only slightly better gas mileage than before, but will also have a fatal flaw that makes the damned cars impossible to use long-term or fix. Committed to the technology and career on the line, the car company in 202X will finally create a solid engine, by which time their reputation will have been sullied. Caught in the great vegetable speculation bubble crash of 202X, they will be bailed out and become property of their home government.

        That's how markets work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Andy Dodd (701)

      Especially since they give little details as to what is so special about their engine.

      "Opposing piston, opposing cylinder" is nothing new and is known for being good for improving balance and reducing vibration. See: Porsche Boxster (Flat-4?), Porsche 911 (I think most if not all 911s have a Flat-6), all Subaru engines (Flat-4 or Flat-6, called "H4 and H6" by Subaru to indicate that they are horizontally opposed engines), and nearly all modern piston aircraft engines.

      There's nothing fundamentally good abo

      • Re:So (Score:5, Informative)

        by b0bby (201198) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:35PM (#34092570) Homepage

        "Opposing piston, opposing cylinder" is nothing new and is known for being good for improving balance and reducing vibration. See: Porsche Boxster (Flat-4?), Porsche 911 (I think most if not all 911s have a Flat-6), all Subaru engines (Flat-4 or Flat-6, called "H4 and H6" by Subaru to indicate that they are horizontally opposed engines), and nearly all modern piston aircraft engines.

        You're missing half of the picture. The engines you list are all traditional four strokes. This one has an "opposing piston" above each traditional piston, where the valve head should be, moving in opposition to the standard piston (to increase compression, I guess). It's absolutely a different design.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by advocate_one (662832)
          Google "Deltic engine"... nothing new here
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Link (since you couldn't be bothered): Napier-Deltic Engine [wikipedia.org]

            So, by "nothing new here", I assume you mean, "nothing new here except the use of only a single crankshaft which thereby eliminates the complexity of designing, building, implementing and synchonising THREE SEPARATE crankshafts" right?

            -AC

        • When piston bores are horizontal, they will wear more at the bottom quadrant due to the weight of the pistons and connecting rods.
      • Re:So (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:39PM (#34092636)

        If you go to the site he has a bit more info including a graphic rendering of the engine >> EcoMotors International [ecomotors.com]

        As I understand it, "traditional" flat engine, or opposing cylinder engine technology uses multiple crankshafts and cylinders and are often based on two-stroke engine technology. Certainly none of the examples I saw or read about in the wikipedia article (Opposed-Piston Engine) seemed less complex, nor efficient. [wikipedia.org]

        This engine, uses two cylinders, each containing two opposing pistons, and only a single crankshaft to obtain 4-stroke emissions benefits without the added complexity of synchronising multiple crankshafts. Also, they're proposing that multiple such powerplants could be daisy-chained together to provide additional power when it is required. In theory, 1-4 of these modules connected thusly could give you performance up to that of an 8cy car, but use as few as two cylinders when the extra horse-power isn't necessary (by "turning on" extra modules as necessary, then turning them back off again when it isn't).

        In theory at least, that should radically improve the available efficiencies of modern engines without needing to alter the existing fuel-distribution network, and without a loss of available horsepower when such is required. In that light, I would say it does represent "something new" (as opposed to your assertion to the contrary).

        -AC

  • by ciaohound (118419) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:42PM (#34091808)

    Now if someone would just rear-mount that in a cute little chassis, maybe one that looked kind of like a bug or something...

    • by CasualFriday (1804992) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:47PM (#34091874) Homepage
      You mean someone like...HITLER?! [wikipedia.org]
    • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:11PM (#34092244) Homepage Journal

      The VW Beetle used a horizontally-opposed engine, which is not the same thing as an opposed-piston engine. In an opposed-piston engine, each cylinder is double-ended, with a piston at each end and no head. A horizontally-opposed engine uses ordinary single-ended cylinders with a head and one piston.

      No, I don't know anything about this stuff. I just know how to use Google and Wikipedia.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by stewbacca (1033764)

        No, I don't know anything about this stuff. I just know how to use Google and Wikipedia.

        Which commonly results in the most insightful and well constructed arguments around these places! Well played, sir.

    • by mangu (126918)

      Now if someone would just rear-mount that in a cute little chassis, maybe one that looked kind of like a bug or something...

      What do you mean? Like those cute little minesweepers [wikimedia.org] or cute little locomotives [wikimedia.org] that have been powered by opposing piston [wikimedia.org] engines?

  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:45PM (#34091854) Homepage

    There is still room for improvement of the internal combustion engine, one is variable compression.

    However - a very limiting factor is that consumers aren't willing to pay for the technology, especially in the US where gasoline is dead cheap compared to many other places in the world.

    Just look at technologies that have been created earlier - the Alvar Engine (variable compression with a small piston that rotates phase-adjusted to the camshaft, and is actually a assymetrical counter-piston engine), Smokey Yunick's Hot Vapor engine (heating the fuel beyond boiling point before injection) etc.

    Diesel engines are also one of the more fuel efficient engines around at the moment. Efficiency up to 55%.

    But what really consumes fuel in many cases is the stop&go traffic in cities. Even a short term accumulation of energy in a capacitor bank would help to keep that down. And vehicle weight is also an important factor. Aerodynamic drag is of course important, but only at highway speeds. In a city you can do fine with a shoe box.

    So the future for cars is probably a combination of solutions.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fotoguzzi (230256)
      Do turbines or rotaries have a place anymore? Once the seals were fixed on the rotary, there was a concern over emissions. Is this an inherent problem or can emissions be reduced if anyone cared to throw some money at the problem?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MachDelta (704883)

        It's sort of inherent to the design. The big problem with a (wankel) rotary's emissions is that the combustion chamber is relatively long and flat (think of a really thin banana), which means that the flame front(s) have to travel farther and faster in order to completely burn everything. Since this is easier to do in a cylinder (ie: piston-engine), a rotary tends to put out more unburned and partially combusted gasses - the bad stuff.

        That said, you can fix anything by throwing enough money at it. Most rota

  • Titanium horseshoes (Score:4, Informative)

    by FrameRotBlues (1082971) <framerotblues@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:45PM (#34091858) Homepage Journal
    Opposed piston motors have been around since the 40s in terms of innovative designs. As far as unique engine variants go, early imagination was not quashed. Books older than you have been written about the pros and cons of I-head, F-head, T-head... 2-cycle diesels, 4-cycle diesels, etc. Check out the Knight sliding sleeve engine. It's all been thought of and conceived, but whether it be incredibly high manufacturing costs or less-than-reliable operation, some force has prevented their use from becoming mainstream.

    History repeats itself. What's old is new again.

    And why are we beating the dead horse that is ICE engines when we could be advancing other technologies? I wrote in a previous comment how it's very similar to new titanium horseshoes... great, but why?
    • by Nadaka (224565)

      I seem to recall opposed pistons a little bit earlier than the 1940's...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radial_engine

  • by mvdwege (243851)

    I see a lot of buzzwords, but the few words with some real content in it makes it seem like this is just a two-stroke boxer engine.

    More efficient? No shit Sherlock, that's always been the province of the two-stroke. The problem was how to keep the lubricants out of the combustion chamber so that it wouldn't be so damn polluting.

    Mart

    • by b0bby (201198) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:00PM (#34092108) Homepage

      the few words with some real content in it makes it seem like this is just a two-stroke boxer engine.

      You should watch the video linked in the article, it really is not just a 2 stroke. It's an opposed piston/opposed cylinder design - think a regular flat twin, but imagine a second pair of pistons moving where the valve head usually is. You can't easily see it in the picture in the article, but it is a neat idea. If it works, it could be cool. If it works.

  • The answer is more diesel powered vehicles. Diesel has a higher energy content and with modern CDI engines can be as fast and greener than a typical gas engine. Although while the cost per gallon of diesel is higher, a small to mid sized diesel passenger car can get 45-55 mpg. Throw in better aerodynamics and we can have more fuel efficient vehicles.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Combatso (1793216)
      the article sais this engine design can be modofied to run diesel.. the solution to any energy crisis is always attack it form multiple fronts.... rathan than picking one idea and shouting it the loudest
  • Diesel keeps getting overlooked by the hype for hybrid vehicles, but a VW Passat BlueMotion recently broke the record for mileage [insideline.com], getting 74.8 MPG.
  • Slashvertisement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:50PM (#34091946)

    Maker of supposedly cleaner engines thinks that cleaner engines is a better idea than electric vehicles. In other news, maker of windmills thinks wind energy is better than solar. Manufacturer of solar cells disagrees. BP thinks they're all full of shit.

    Worse, take a look at the submitter's profile - very few posts (though going back a ways) and a whole lot of story submissions pimping some company or other. I'm catching a whiff of an ad campaign here.

  • It's perfectly possibly that the future of cheap, clean and geostrategically independent energy passes trough new and improved engines, maybe together with things like biofuels.

    Then again it's perfectly possible that electric cars are the way of the future.

    Who knows?

    No reason to limited ourselves to only one or the other approach though.

    That said, this specific gentleman would much rather that more money is invested in "his way" since he stands to make a lot of money if lots of people throw money at it, eve

  • by Little Brother (122447) <kg4wwn@qsl.net> on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:51PM (#34091966) Journal

    I don't know the limit of efficiency that this new engine design will deliver, but at any sane value this does not solve our biggest problem here in the United States (and probably other nations as well.)

    Everything we do is regulated by oil. Our food distribution runs on diesel, our manufacturing runs on diesel. Our military runs on diesel. Our workforce requires gas to get to work. Every facet of American life is dependent on oil based fuels without which our economy, our military, our industry, our agriculture and our commerce will fail. Even with extreme improvement in our ability to harness these fuels, it is extraordinarily unlikely that we can produce enough fuel to be self-sufficient. In short our national security and our very survival are in the hands of foreign powers.

    In the best of circumstances this would be worrying, depending on close allies for your ability to survive is harrowing, but sustainable. We are not in the best of circumstances, The nations that produce the majority of oil are not staunch allies, but nations with populaces that are predominantly anti-US. At any time the structure in these countries could break down and we could find ourselves at war with them. This would be a war that even if we win could destroy us as a nation. If we conserve all our fuel resources for the War effort, which we would have to do if we want to win with conventional weapons, we would find ourselves bereft of fuel and the fuel production infrastructure itself most likely in shambles due to the war. Our way of life would be over just as surely as if we had been conquered by a foreign power.

    We need to switch to electric not because it is more efficient (although it is) not because it will create jobs (though it will) not because it can be more environmentally sound (although it could be); we need to switch to electrical power because it keeps our vital infrastructure requirements in our own hands. It is a matter of national security, no nation can prosper if it id dependent on unfriendly nations for its very survival.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Everything we do is regulated by oil. Our food distribution runs on diesel, our manufacturing runs on diesel. Our military runs on diesel. Our workforce requires gas to get to work. Every facet of American life is dependent on oil based fuels without which our economy, our military, our industry, our agriculture and our commerce will fail. Even with extreme improvement in our ability to harness these fuels, it is extraordinarily unlikely that we can produce enough fuel to be self-sufficient. In short our national security and our very survival are in the hands of foreign powers.

      And the US economy was almost brought down by oil two years ago. No wait, that was easy credit, lax enforcement of law, and rent-seeking. Despite the near fundamental role of oil in the US economy, I consider the real weakness of the US to be the increasingly centralized control apparatus for the US economy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WindBourne (631190)
        Actually, we were more centralized in the 40-70's. At that time, businesses worked with gov. to accomplish focused actions. Now, we have told businesses to seek the largest amount of short-term money, and that is exactly what is going on. They are moving to China. Much of that was accomplished by reagan allowing CEOs to have corporate stock, and by all nice tax cuts by reagan and W..

        To make matters worse, we no longer break up companies that are too large. For all of these companies that we bailed out, we
  • by Lord Crc (151920) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:54PM (#34092004)

    Tried to figure out how this thing worked and I found this video here: http://www.engineeringtv.com/video/Opposed-Piston-Opposed-Cylinder [engineeringtv.com]

    Some good technical questions and answers, as well as a working illustrative model of the engine.

  • Why does this become some conservative v liberal thing. Us v them.

    For short trips I don't see why I can't leverage the natural gas, nuclear, coal, wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric grid that we have.

    For long trips I can use gas(natural or synthetic), natural gas, hydrogen, or whatever makes sense for my region.

    I think the battery is largely for energy recapture (braking,idling,etc) and for a quick charge.

    As for gas as a fuel source it seems silly to me to keep going to exotic places(mile under water, m

  • it's just one of these, basically:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourke_engine [wikipedia.org]
    plus the option of having a hybrid system. The Bourke is the cold fusion of the automotive world. We've been hearing how magical and amazingly efficient it is since it was invented in the 1920s and yet no one has managed to build one that is actually more than slightly better than a normal 4 cycle.
  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:56PM (#34092048)
    "On a grander scale, Runkle says the EcoMotors technology is ultimately cleaner than plug-in electric automobiles, because it produces more efficient power without having to tap grid electricity—much of which comes from burning coal."

    Again, burning fuel is always going to be the less than ideal solution, no matter what the power is used for.
    Clean, renewable energy is the way of the future.
  • I not a car guy. So, will someone explain to me how this differs from a boxer engine?
  • fuel efficiency and sustainable transportation technology is teaching the average lard-bellied coffee swilling cell phone barking commuter the difference between responsible safe driving and break neck dale earnhart rally racing. for example:
    not every green light means floor the accelerator
    if its 80 degrees outside, you likely do not need the AC blasting
    the posted highway speed limit of 65 is not to be interpreted as 85.
    dont "race" up to the red light as fast as you can, only to pound the brakes 60
  • Summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by sshore (50665) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:00PM (#34092116)

    The article is light on details, but there's details elsewhere.

    The OPOC engine is a horizontally opposed two cylinder two-stroke engine. As a cylinder in a two-stroke engine has a power stroke on every revolution instead of every second revolution, this engine has very high power density compared to a four-stroke engine of the same size.

    Traditionally, two-stroke engines have had very poor emissions. Since the exhaust and intake strokes are not separate, the intake mixes with the exhaust to some degree. This means that some of the intake fuel goes out the exhaust unburned, and some of the exhaust remains in the cylinder with the intake charge, reducing peak temperature. This engine, however, uses assisted HCCI [wikipedia.org] with a diesel injection system, meaning the fuel is introduced during compression instead of intake, so unburned intake fuel does not cross over to the exhaust. (I'm not clear what the "assisted" part is in the assisted HCCI. Perhaps there's a spark plug that's only used during low-power, lean burn conditions?)

    The cylinder pairs are intended to be balanced and stackable, so that multiples can be connected together for higher output. TFA suggests that it might even be stacked with an electric motor for low-speed operation.

    I imagine these would be very useful for a hybrid, despite the summary title. Unassisted HCCI engines have a small power range, but this would be perfectly fine for a series hybrid generator motor running at a fixed RPM for charging.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:20PM (#34092376) Journal
    This is two stroke diesel engine. All diesels are fuel injected. Though diesels do have better torque at low rpms, even they can't match the electric motor when it comes to torque at zero rpm. Electric motors have peak torque at 0 rpm, exactly what you need to get the vehicle in motion. That is why even diesel locomotives run a generator and use electric motors to haul a train. It is not enough to beat the electrics in efficiency, you need to beat it in torque too.

    The only reason IC engines are even competitive with the electric motor is because of the high energy density of the fuel carried on board. If you solve the energy storage problem for the electric motor, there is no way IC engines could compete. Not on efficiency, not on torque, not on emissions, not on noise pollution, nothing. You are held hostage by the fuel tank. Not the IC engine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bkaul01 (619795)

      The only reason IC engines are even competitive with the electric motor is because of the high energy density of the fuel carried on board. If you solve the energy storage problem for the electric motor, there is no way IC engines could compete. Not on efficiency, not on torque, not on emissions, not on noise pollution, nothing. You are held hostage by the fuel tank. Not the IC engine.

      Of course, but that's been the case since the advent of horseless carriages, and shows no signs of changing any time soon ...

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