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, “The Opoc engine can be an important step in providing affordable, low-emission transportation for the developing world.”

EcoMotors is awaiting word on a $200 million U.S. Department of Energy loan that would enable the company to build engines at an old GM plant in Livonia, Mich. Runkle said the engine will be on the market in the next few years. “There is a revolution going on right now in propulsion systems,” Runkle said. “There’s far more investment in internal combustion than in electrification.”

Khosla, in true venture capitalist fashion, is spreading his bets. His fund is a major backer of cellulosic ethanol ventures, battery development companies and other automotive efficiency ventures—all of which are likely to play a role in a greener automotive future.


  • moishe k

    how would this benefit electric car with ICE range extender

  • DownUnder

    Why “for the developing world”?
    If it’s superior to the old engine design, the “first world” countries should use it right now, right here.

  • jock

    Very similar to the old tilling stevens stevens design, could there be a patent infringment with this design.
    might be worth a check before bill gives the the money.

  • DC

    This just goes to show Bill Gates is in many ways, as commited to an unstainable status-quo as any BP Chevron or Shell Executive. Only a fool could believe, as evidently many americans choose to, that the way to “solve” the intractable problems of the ICE is by, get ready for it, building a mariginally more efficent ICE.

    /q “There is a revolution going on right now in propulsion systems,” Runkle said. “There’s far more investment in internal combustion than in electrification.”

    Of course there is, america and to be fair, pretty much every country in the world is commited to an ICE world, even in the face of its fatal flaws. Bill should save his money and use it to buy more mosquito nets for Africa, this ventures serves to illustrate that industrial civilization simply refuses to let go of its dangerous fixation of fossil-fuel mobile trash-bins.

  • Alexei

    It is promised to be smaller, thus it will be lighter. Less weight to carry around, thus more EV range or smaller battery for the same EV range which is cheaper.
    If the same engine can run on petrol or diesel, this will remove the existing premium on the current diesel engines which are more expensive than petrol. One of the reasons why there are not many diesel electric cars around or planned is the added cost of diesel engine which adds to extra cost of EV system.

  • Mr. Fusion

    Wow, a better horse shoe at the dawn of the horseless carriage.

  • Dom

    This is exactly the reason I’m opposed to the government pushing one particular technology. If this engine can really get 50% better fuel economy and do it on the cheap, it’ll be a good practical solution for right now, no infrastructure change needed. What’s not to like? Oh, maybe it doesn’t further some peoples electric dreams…

  • Elliot

    Really? I see this as Bill G trying to do his part to help change the status quo. The world is not going to be overflowing with cheap maintainable electical vehicles in the near future. If this engine can play a part in reducing our petroleum consumption then I am all for it. We shouldn’t snub our noses at something that helps as we hope for a solution.

    Remember just a few years ago when we heard some politicians tell us not to worry about fuel efficiency, hybrids, etc because fuel cell vehicles would be revolutionizing our transportation system by 2010. Well….its 2010. I don’t see it. Lesson here is that we can’t bank on one solution. Conservation, electric vehicles, hybrids, fuel cells, mass transit, etc all have a role to play.

  • Patrick C

    I would think that the increase in efficiencies of an ICE vehicle, partnered with the low cost and easy integration in today’s automobile industry and infrastructure, would have a much greater impact on helping to reduce pollution/emissions, than 5% of the vehicles in developed countries being HEV/EV.

    Progress takes time. I am shocked that so many people responded negatively to this news/technology, failing to see the great potential it has. This is an HEV/EV vehicles sight, I would expect us readers and responders to appreciate ANY and ALL attempts at producing a more effective, efficient, and “market-real” vehicle.

    The only qualm I have, is that I believe this type of engine design could/may have been developed years ago…

  • MS

    Oposite cilinders?

    Small diferences between this engine and the one of SUBARU Impreza 4 oposite cilinder turbocharged (ok 4 cicle engine).

    btw 2 cicle engine and diesel engine gives a lot of vibrations and low torque. I still remember the actual engines sold by VW 1.2 liter diesel, 3 cilinders, very noisy and slow.

    The engine runs on gas and on diesel, but not the same engine as the compression and the plugs are very differente. Gasoline explodes by ignition and diesel expands by compression.

    This article should be clearer and with more information.

  • Hal Howell

    Good for Bill. What we need is a better ICE. What the rest of you need to wake up and realize is that an ICE is going to a part of the automotive story for a very long time. Fuel cells are way too expensive and there is no infrastructure to support it as of yet. Even when it does become affordable and available, FC cars still can’t go the distance as an ICE can. My Prius has the potential of going about 600 miles before refueling. The Honda Clarity has a range of about 240 – 300 miles before needing to refuel. Even the best electric car such as the Tesla has a range of about 200 miles while the Volt which has to use gasoline to go beyond its 40 mile electric range is still only about 340 miles. All of the alternative based vehicles are very expensive and out of the reach of most people. Sooo, for the near to long term, gasoline which is readily available is the only viable option in terms of cost and convenience. Nobody is going to drive 200-300 miles and wait 6 to 8 hours to recharge his car when you can still refuel at the pump in less than 10 minutes! Hybrids and better ICE engines are the only viable way to get around until some major breakthrough is achieved. Deal with it. We need all the oil we can drill out of the ground/ocean!

  • Job123

    Cool engine with a great improvement potential. A small inexpensive efficient engine combined with hybrid technology may provide a major improvement and step away from carbon based culture. It’s all about improvements and not about phony utopian ideas. An improvement from 20 to 100mpg eliminates 80% of the consumption may allow green fuels to fulfill the need to reduce or eliminate petrodollar terrorism and dictatorships(which maybe triple the cost). Brazil is free of petrodollar coercion by production of ethanol green fuel alone and so can we be, with a few improvements here and there, including maybe a reduced war mentality and maybe feed in-tariffs for wind and solar and maybe hang a corrupt congressman or two for good measure like China illustrates. Discipline is good.

  • Shines

    MS I see huge differences between the Subaru engine and this. The opposing pistons eliminate the need for valves. Vents at the outstroke push air fuel mixture in and push exhaust out at the same time which is what changes the 4 stroke to a 2 stroke. I suspect the opposing cylinders also offset each other in terms of vibration. You are right about the differences between gasoline and diesel, but in terms of the basic engine design not a significant difference (just reduce compression and add a spark plug for the gasoline version).

  • DoubleFelix

    This is very exciting. EVs aren’t going to be a significant factor until the infrastructure is built out — no more than 5% of the market for the next 10 years. The big impact in the next 10 years will be getting more hybrids on the road, making 50 MPH the new standard.

    There is good reason to believe this engine can be fundamentally more efficient than today’s piston engines that are largely unchanged for 90 years. The doubled pistons and the ability to entirely disconnect modules should be significantly more efficient than what anybody is doing today.

    If this vision is realized, and if we realize some of the promise of better battery systems in the next few years, this could make an ideal Hybrid package. A one liter engine of this technology (i.e. two 500cc modules) ought to be more than adequate to power any passenger car with the electric motor providing the majority of acceleration. And that could get us to the 80-100 MPG range for Prius/Malibu sized cars.

  • DoubleFelix

    Job123 wrote, “An improvement from 20 to 100mpg eliminates 80% of the consumption may allow green fuels to fulfill the need …”

    This is exactly right. Anybody who thinks that we’re just going to flip a switch and make oil consumption go away is nuts. The path ahead is to keep pushing technologies to get our average consumption down to about 100 MPG or so. Technologies like this new engine give us a path to do that.

    Of course, if we pursue this very vigorously, then there could be an oil SURPLUS on the world market, and that will LOWER the price of gasoline. The only course that will actually work is one that makes us less dependent on oil at the same time the oil supply drops post peak. Of course, politically we can have a little influence over this by making it more difficult for companies to drill offshore.

    But the irony in all of this is that we actually need gas prices to remain high in order to create the economic opportunity for alternate technologies. If we ever find ourselves with a vast surplus of clean energy, it can be turned into hydrogen and oxidized in engines such as this one with zero emissions.

  • manolis

    From the technical view point:

    The OPOC engine is not as compact as the pattakon OPRE engine;

    The OPOC engine is not as simple and cheap as the OPRE engine (the OPOC is based on an external scavenging pump);

    The OPOC engine, having a basic unit comprising four pistons and two cylinders, cannot be as smooth and vibration-free as the simpler/smaller OPRE engine that has a basic unit comprising two pistons and one cylinder. For application with divided load (like electric generators, like out-board twin propeller engines, like the portable flyer that is based on OPRE’s power-to-weight-ratio and on OPRE’s abolute vibration free operation) the single cylinder OPRE is perfectly balanced, better than the Wankel Rotary Engine.
    In divided-load applications the two crankshafts is a significant advantage.

    The OPOC engine has a narrow rev range (long connecting rods, tuned external scavenging pump etc) while the OPRE engine has a wide rev range because of its architecture, because of its built-in volumetric piston-type scavenging pumps and because it provides some 40% additional time to the fuel to get prepared and burned in-time, i.e. more efficiently than the current direct injection Diesel.

    And there are more. Take a look at pattakon OPRE engine at http://www.pattakon.com/pattakonOPRE.htm

    The OPOC engine is an alternative for the conventional engine, yet there are other alternatives, too.

  • manolis

    From the technical view point:

    The OPOC engine is not as compact as the pattakon OPRE engine;

    The OPOC engine is not as simple and cheap as the OPRE engine (the OPOC is based on an external scavenging pump);

    The OPOC engine, having a basic unit comprising four pistons and two cylinders, cannot be as smooth and vibration-free as the simpler/smaller OPRE engine that has a basic unit comprising two pistons and one cylinder. For application with divided load (like electric generators, like out-board twin propeller engines, like the portable flyer that is based on OPRE’s power-to-weight-ratio and on OPRE’s abolute vibration free operation) the single cylinder OPRE is perfectly balanced, better than the Wankel Rotary Engine.
    In divided-load applications the two crankshafts is a significant advantage.

    The OPOC engine has a narrow rev range (long connecting rods, tuned external scavenging pump etc) while the OPRE engine has a wide rev range because of its architecture, because of its built-in volumetric piston-type scavenging pumps and because it provides some 40% additional time to the fuel to get prepared and burned in-time, i.e. more efficiently than the current direct injection Diesel.

    And there are more. Take a look at pattakon OPRE engine at http://www.pattakon.com/pattakonOPRE.htm

    The OPOC engine is an alternative for the conventional engine, yet there are other alternatives, too.

  • AE

    Opposed piston engine, not opposite. There are major differences between this engine design and the one for the Subaru boxter engine (used in a lot of subaru cars, not just in the Impreza), one being the opposed piston design, another being it’s a 2-stroke, a third being the size, a fourth being the weight. There are also other differences. This engine would not be comparable to a 1.2 liter 3-cyl. diesel engine.

    Of course, the engine design would be different if the engine was supposed to run on diesel. I’m sure they don’t claim one engine design would be able to use both fuels.

  • sigma

    People know a lot about the internal combustion engine, but do not know who actually invented it.

    Find out about the inventer of the internal combusion engine, here:

    http://www.brighthub.com/engineering/mechanical/articles/77502.aspx

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