Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bill Gates Invests in Better Internal Combustion Engine

OPOC Engine

There's a truism in Silicon Valley: Investment money flows to good ideas, but it flows more freely to good ideas with credentialed people behind them. The truism played out this week when start-up EcoMotors scored a $23.5 million Series B round of investment from Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and alternative energy investor Vinod Khosla. The money will be used for engineering and further testing of the company's Opoc engine.

EcoMotors, a two-year-old start-up with fewer than 40 employees, is headed by ex-G.M. executive Don Runkle. Its piston-opposed engine design is conceived by ex-VW powertrain executive Peter Hofbauer, who designed the high-speed diesel engine that became the foundation for the Volkswagen Jetta Clean Diesel. The Opoc engine operates on a two-cycle principle, generating one power stroke per crank revolution per cylinder. It comprises two opposing cylinders that move in opposite directions with a crankshaft between them. The engine can run on unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel.

While the investment in EcoMotors is dwarfed by the hundreds of millions of dollars backing various battery and plug-in car ventures, the company may be able to more quickly deliver its engine in volume�partly because it doesn't represent a significant shift in automotive technology or infrastructure. The key word is affordability. Electric cars are expected to face cost obstacles for some time, and the economics of fuel cells are even more challenging.

Peter Hofbauer explains the benefits of the Opoc engine.

Investing in Internal Combustion for the Masses

EcoMotors promises that the Opoc engine will provide a 50 percent fuel efficiency improvement on current engines while using half as many parts, and delivering a modular engine architecture capable of dramatically reducing emissions especially in city driving. Gates, who invested through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, �SThe Opoc engine can be an important step in providing affordable, low-emission transportation for the developing world.⬝

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