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Power Transportation

Looking To Better Engines Instead of Electric Vehicles 570

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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  • 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.

  • by fotoguzzi ( 230256 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @01:57PM (#34092060)
    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:Damnit slashdot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:00PM (#34092094) Homepage Journal

    You think that the EV's are being powered by unicorn tears? No. It is coal.

    Depends on where you live. Still, ironically environmentalism has pretty much killed all non-coal economic sources of electricity - as nice as it is, solar and wind are still far more expensive than then their baseload counterparts.

    I'd be building nuclear plants, but you can get EVs that are 'powered' by solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, etc...

    EVs are one of the reasons I think that 'conservation' isn't going to save us from having to build nuclear power plants. EVs get around 3 miles to the kwh. People tend to drive 12-15k miles a year. That's 4-5k kwh/year. Take a 'standard' 2 car household, that's 8-10k kwh, 667-833kwh a month. Or around 2/3rds the standard electric bill. We could save 1/3rd the electricity we currently use by using energy efficient appliances and turning off the lights and such, only to turn around and double our usage by plugging our cars in.

    EVs aren't, can't be the 'only' solution for replacing oil based fuels. But they have their spot, I can say that.

  • Re:why not both? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Idaho ( 12907 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:10PM (#34092222)

    my new 2010 CR-V has a real time miles per gallon calculator on the dashboard and i can easily go above 30mpg at 65mph

    Yeah, hybrids easily get 50-60 mpg at similar speeds though. So do small diesels (those can do even better, in fact).

    the only time it drops a lot is when i accelerate which is a lot since i'm in NYC and we have a lot of traffic lights.

    You do realize these are exactly the circumstances where a hybrid drivetrain actually helps a lot, even compared to small diesel engines?

  • Re:energy density (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:17PM (#34092332)
    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.
  • 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:why not both? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:21PM (#34092384)

    Short term, I see engine designs and hybridization (why run a gas engine at a stop light?). I also see E85 coming from other sources than corn, which will slow down the need for overseas dino juice. Better our vehicles be drunkards than carnivores.

    Medium term, I see nuclear power allowing for use of thermal depolymerization and technologies to suck CO2 from the air to combine it with water and make crude oil, thus allowing for gasoline to be produced and existing infrastructure kept. Why nuclear power? It is carbon neutral, inexpensive, has a lot of energy generating capability in a small area, and the technology is very mature.

    Long term, nuclear fusion, supercap technology, and electric motors. However, there are large hurdles before this happens, from getting the power/weight ratio of supercaps on par with chemical storage mechanisms like gasoline, getting fusion productive on a wide scale basis, and getting an electric grid that can handle transportation 24/7, so vehicles like the Nissan Leaf can plug in, even when parked near the Pravda "shop" by Marfa Texas.

  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:30PM (#34092502) Homepage

    What I see is: Significant increase in complexity - three piston rods per cylinder, six crankshaft attachments to rods per cylinder pair - plus piston rods on the outside of the engine block.

    Good for small engines, but massive increase in complexity and size for more than one cylinder pair.

    Also, much of the claimed advantage of cylinder shutdown is negated by gasoline direct injection (an alternative method to reducing pumping losses at low power levels).

  • by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:30PM (#34092506)

    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 rotary engines i've seen have at least two spark plugs per rotor (equivalent to having two spark plugs per cylinder) to help spread the flame front. Maybe there's a better/faster way of ignition such that it travels the length of the chamber at (very very very) high speeds? Maybe some sort of (frikkin') laser? Who knows?

  • by superdan2k ( 135614 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:39PM (#34092632) Homepage Journal
    I have a boxer engine (horizontally opposed pistons) in my Subaru. The fuel efficiency on a four-cylinder sucks balls, to put it mildly. I go out of my way to drive conservatively and I'm still lucky if I can squeeze 24mpg out of it. To make matters even more entertaining, maintenance is a nightmare -- most pro mechanics want to charge me exorbitant prices because they have so little experience working on them, and when I've had to do routine things like changing the spark plugs, it takes a couple hours because I have to gut the engine compartment to get to the side of the engines where the plugs are located. Nifty idea, and sure it probably increases power output and reduced friction as advertised, but fuel economy and maintenance considerations are shit, in my experience.
  • by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @02:48PM (#34092740)

    The deal with lower piston speeds is all about momentum. The less momentum a piston has, the less energy is wasted trying to get it to suddenly move in the opposite direction.

    Unfortunately, one of the problems with opposed-piston designs is that they really just move the problem of from one spot to another. Sure, your pistons have less momentum, but you end up attaching two of them (the outside pistons) to incredibly long and relatively fragile connecting rods. At that point you either have to limit the amount of power/cylinder you're producing (so you don't break the rod), or you need a big, thick, heavy, super-strong rod to handle high loads (power) and vibrations (rpm) - at which point you've defeated the whole purpose of reducing the rotating mass (or, alternatively, the total mass when you stack 10 of these things together) anyway.

    Opposed piston engines are nothing new. In fact they're over 100 years old. And this guy hasn't given us anything radically new that would thrust an opposed-piston design to the forefront of internal combustion.
    So to trot out an old meme: Nothing to see here, move along.

  • by tom17 ( 659054 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @03:29PM (#34093362) Homepage
    Although metal technology has advanced a long way over the years, it still has its limits. Consider that conventional pushrods already have a fair bit of beef to them and consider that it does not take much to make them fail. Also consider that their primary load is under compression (They have the suck stroke which is tension, but not exactly a high-load stroke compared to bang :) ).

    Now the 'pushrod' being discussed here is in fact a 'pull'rod. i.e, it's primary load is under *tension* not compression. (likewise, it will have a light-duty suck stroke which will compress the rod). Also consider that this rod will have to be very long. If we had failing push-rods, you can bet this thing is going to have to be *very* strong to not snap under extreme tension.

    As a disclaimer, I am not familiar with relative compressive & tensile strengths of high-tech alloys. I am assuming that they are, in general, far more durable under compression than tension, right? If not, then I retract this whole thing :)
  • Re:why not both? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by domatic ( 1128127 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @03:34PM (#34093430)

    The OP isn't entirely incorrect. GE for one is designing locomotives with more sophisticated power systems to increase fuel efficiency. Namely, they are incorporating regenerative braking and a battery system; []

  • history downscaled (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LordMyren ( 15499 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @03:44PM (#34093612) Homepage

    Yes opposed piston is an old idea. For a time they were popular for high power density applications, and high efficiency applications (awesome axial flow properties). The reason this old creation fell out of favor is that, for the high-density extreme-efficiency uses fulfilled, there was an all around better replacement: gas turbines.

    Gas turbines, however, have their own host of issues which make them unsuitable for all applications. Captone's 30kW microturbine, for example, is itself small, but has a sizable host of systems to support it and deal with the high temperatures, and costs a decent fraction of a million dollars last I checked. It and it's upsized bretheren are found in buses, and the occasional exotic-- see the CMT-380: a car custom built around the sizable & demanding microturbine power plant.

    Given the challenges of using gas turbines, EcoMotors opting to dust off and enhance the next best thing makes some sense. There's big opportunity to evolve this already uber efficient two stroke's airflow with modern techniques and tooling. You've pointed out a number of mechanical challenges, but these seem to me considerably more mundane than the challenges of adapting a gas turbine to an every day machine. It may be old tech, but it's considerably better than what powers nearly a billion motorized vehicles on the roads and in the fields today.

    I'd say the revival is both well timed and worth pausing to examine. Please feel free to contribute alternative reasons for their having fallen out of favor; would be most interesting to collect more facts or anecdotes.

  • Re:why not both? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @05:06PM (#34094726)
    in most models, you actually controlled your speed with the throttle to the gas engine;

    Not in Europe, anyway. Here its typically 750RPM when idling, 1500RPM when applying power. No other speeds are really useable because all the gas flow is in resonant pipes.

    In reality, most trucks here are similar too - but there is a slight power band and by having 12 to 24 gears, you can stay in a fairly narrow power band.

    Incidentlally, the received wisdom is that you improve MPG 10% for each additional gear you have because of being able to stay in a narrower power band (assuming the power band is narrowed to suit the range of gears as well).

    (May not apply to petrol engines) (in my country a "gas" engine burns natural gas, and not petrol).

  • by Comrade Ogilvy ( 1719488 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:07PM (#34095456)

    The world just doesn't work like that, Hydrocarbons won't vanish overnight. They just get more and more expensive, and as the expense climbs, people come up with solutions.

    The English burned up all their wood, then found coal, then found oil, and that is how things work.

    On one hand, yes, genuine catastrophes are rare. And I happen to be in the camp that hydrocarbons are not rare, they are just getting more and more expensive, in both direct extraction costs and environmental costs

    On the other hand, your real life example sucks. The Brits burn up wood, found coal, and then discovered that oil was plentiful if they kept the Persians under their thumb AND made a deal with Sauds who are tied directly to Islamists who want to turn the clock back one thousand years.

    Gee, what could possibly go wrong with a game plan like that?

    Our present oil economies are indirectly subsidized by seven hundred billion dollars of US defense spending every year. That is not sustainable model. And the coming multi-polar world will make it less sustainable still.

    And finally, I would note that the Anasazi and Rapa Nui were blossoming cultures right until wandered over the cliff. Present prosperity does not necessarily indicate resilience when the world changes.

  • Re:energy density (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:28PM (#34095734)

    The Stone-Age did not end because we ran out of stones.
    The Bronze-Age did not end because we ran out of bronze.
    The Iron-Age did not end because we ran out of iron.
    And the Oil-Age will not end because we run out of oil, but because something better will come along.

  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @07:46AM (#34099384)
    When piston bores are horizontal, they will wear more at the bottom quadrant due to the weight of the pistons and connecting rods.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson