When oil prices shot over $100 a barrel a year ago, I was inundated with press releases from inventors claiming they had an engine that would solve the energy crisis. In most cases, I simply deleted each release and went on with my work. You see, I've seen this all before.
The same thing happened after the oil shocks of the 1970s. All kinds of inventors came up with all kinds of engine designs, promising to solve the country's energy problem. But not one of those engines ever made it into production.
In most cases these new designs only existed on paper. In other cases, the efforts were led by people who had no clue what it takes to break into the automotive industry. Think about it. In the last 100 years only three engines have made it into mass production: the gasoline engine, the diesel engine, and the rotary. And only Mazda has stuck with the rotary.
But recently I got to see a new type of engine that makes me think it might have a chance. Part of that has to do with the design of the engine. The other part has to do with who is behind the project.
John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
Eco Motors is the name of a new company that has come up with a radically new type of engine. It has two opposing pistons in two contiguous cylinders, connected to a common crankshaft in the middle of the engine. An electric supercharger provides boost on demand. It's a two-stroke engine with no valves, yet still achieves 90% scavenging efficiency with less oil consumption than a four-stroke engine. In other words, it's a two-stroke engine that can meet the strictest emissions standards. It can be made as a spark-ignited or compression-ignition engine, and the diesel version can meet emission standards without using urea.
Believe me, my description does not do this engine justice. Click on the accompanying videos to get a better understanding of how this works.
Eco Motors calls this the OPOC engine, which stands for opposed piston, opposed cylinder. The most intriguing part is that it's a design which is half the size and uses half the parts of a conventional piston engine. Eco claims it can be built for 20% lower cost and 30% lower investment than traditional internal combustion engines (ICE's). And it claims it can provide a 15% improvement in fuel economy.
But Eco also says that by pairing two of these engines together you can get a 50% improvement in fuel economy. In this arrangement, one engine shuts off in light throttle applications, then instantly fires up for full throttle acceleration. This would boost fuel economy 50% over a conventional ICE, since there are no pumping loses when the second engine shuts down.
So, for example, instead of building one 150-hp OPOC engine for a compact car, you'd build two 75-hp OPOC engines and connect them together. Even though this dual-engine arrangement would erase the advantage of having fewer parts, it would still result in an engine that's half the height of a current ICE. Eco Motors showed me engineering schematics where a dual-engine layout would easily fit in the engine compartment of any of today's compact front-wheel-drive cars.
What makes Eco Motors worth paying attention to is that this engine is more than just a design study, or a CAD simulation. Eco invited me over to Roush Industries to watch one of their working prototypes running on a dynamometer, where it's already racked up over 500 hours of test time.
Just as importantly, the OPOC engine was designed by Peter Hofbauer, who spent 20 years at Volkswagen designing diesel engines and the VR6, that narrow 15-degree engine. The CEO is Don Runkle who was the chief technology officer at Delphi and played key roles in the original Corvette ZR-1, Buick Racing and the Chevrolet Indy effort. The COO is John Coletti who used to run the SVT engineering operations at Ford. In other words, these are people with a proven track record who know how to get things done in the auto industry.
Sure, it may turn out that this is just another one of those engines that ends up on the ash heap of automotive industry. But of all the alternatives I've seen so far, this one intrigues me the most.
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