After the watching the OPOC engine run and shooting some exclusive video for TTAC, I was introduced to CEO Don Runkle.
Runkle joined the company last year and is convinced that in the long run no other energy source can compete with oil, and that the internal combustion engine will be here for a long time, albeit with an entirely new architecture, the OPOC. That’s the word that Runkle kept using regarding the OPOC engine’s design, architecture. That and “disruptive”. The OPOC, according to Runkle, is cheaper, better, simpler, stronger, lighter and cleaner than any other power generating technology now or in the foreseeable future. Cheaper than hybrids and electric vehicles and with a smaller carbon footprint too.
The engine’s width is exaggerated a bit by the other dimensions which are much smaller than a conventional engine of similar power. Runkle showed a slide of a proposed two-module engine, made up of two 75 HP two cylinder modules, that easily fit inside the standard frame rails of a Ford Fusion. The modular design, with an electric coupling clutch between the modules, allows for variable displacement without the frictional loses that current cylinder deactivation systems involve. The second module is simply decoupled and shut off and doesn’t spin when not needed. The modular concept also allows for superior EPA cycle performance since it can do the complete cycle on only one module, and also heats up quicker eliminating a lot of cold start emissions. EcoMotor’s target is to meet emissions standards without specialized catalytic converters that other diesels currently need to comply.
I took a picture of Runkle holding up a mockup of one of the 75 HP modules and it’s remarkably small. Runkle also showed me a suitcase generator, a 10KW emergency generator with a 10-15 HP OPOC, that’s literally the size of a small suitcase. Ten kilowatts is enough power to run most of your home. Because of the low profile, in front engined cars, the OPOC would allow lower hoods and better aerodynamics. In rear and mid engine vehicles, it’s compact size gives more passenger and cargo space. The Fusion concept drawing was with a transverse crankshaft, but Runkle said that with only slight modifications to the frame rails, the 150HP OPOC could fit longitudinally too.
For power generation applications, the modular concept allows scalability that is not possible with current ICEs. If peak demand means you need a 1000HP, that means you run a 1000HP engine all the time. With a modular design, as load increases, more modules can be brought on line and when load decreases, modules can be shut off, saving fuel.
Runkle says they won’t be following Lotus’ model with their Omnivore engine (another two-stroke design which EcoMotors has studied along with 15 other new engines but feels that they all fall short of the OPOC’s potential). Lotus plans to license the technology but not build engines itself. EcoMotors, Runkle says, intends to use Qualcomm’s model. They both sell chip sets they make themselves and they license their technology to others, creating de facto industry standards. EcoMotors will build motors themselves for sale to non-automotive customers. He contends that no matter the application, power generation, marine, pumps, helicopters, diesel-electric locomotives, whatever you need an ICE for, the OPOC is a superior choice. It runs efficiently at both steady speeds, good for power generation and in use in range extended EVs, and under direct load from the driving wheels. OPOC architecture will also be licensed to major automakers and engine manufacturers.
The central location of the electrically operated coupling clutch between the modules seems ideal for integrating an electric motor so I asked about hybrid plans. I was shown a diagram of what they call a “tribrid”, a two module engine with an electric motor integrated into the transaxle. OPOC’s suitability for genset applications and compact size would make it ideal for range extended EVs. While I’m on the subject of hybrids, Runkle and Hurden both said that EcoMotors is not at all involved with the electromagnetic hybrid ICE engine that Bill Gates and his associates have patented through Intellectual Ventures, his IP enterprise.
Though they’ll gladly sell motors and technology that would be used in hybrid vehicles, Runkle is convinced that the OPOC is by itself superior to hybrid and EV technologies in terms of overall cost and environmental impact.
In comparison to conventional ICEs, not only does the simpler design mean lower production costs, Runkle anticipates that the cost of building the production line itself will be 30% lower than with a conventional engine, and converting an existing plant to OPOC production would yield even greater savings. The lower cost of entry is a selling point to developing countries like China and India.
With Runkle’s background running Buick’s racing program, and Colleti’s background building SVT products at Ford, I asked about motorsports and performance cars. At first Runkle, who headed development of some fairly high performance production, concept and racing cars, said that he’d already done that and was interested in an efficient, cost effective powerplant. Then he smiled and said, that the OPOC would make a “phenomenal racing engine” and proceeded to tick off what made it an ideal racing powerplant: high specific output, low weight, low aero, and low cg. He then said that it would “probably be outlawed” and that in any case racing was “not in the budget”.
When I asked for a time frame to production, Runkle said that he hoped there’d be OPOCs in production in some form within 3 years. When I asked him where he saw the company in 10 years, he said that it’d be a billion dollar company, selling millions of engines, that famous car companies and well known engine suppliers would be producing OPOCs of their own designs, making their own improvements, paying royalties.ed.
“We feel that we have the engine and technology for all reciprocating ICE’s.”
When I alluded to Zhongding’s “investment”, Runkle took pains to say that they “are not an investor, they are a customer”. EcoMotors is developing a variant of their engines for Zhongding and that the letter of intent is being formalized into a contract.
In terms of deals with other companies, the OEM automakers have shown “a lot of interest” even though EcoMotors has not made a lot of presentations, pitches and road shows. During our interview, Runkle was running through an abbreviated PowerPoint presentation they use for investors and potential customers, but so far the haven’t really marketed the concept. They have no communications staff and what marketing they are doing is being handled by an outside firm, PCGCampbell.
Runkle said that nobody’s thrown them out of an office yet, but that they want to be sure that their game is good before they start marketing the idea seriously. A $350 market is the big leagues.
In the second chapter of Pirke Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, the concept of wisdom is discussed. Rabbi Shimon says, ” Who is wise: One who sees something from its birth”. The ability to see the end from the beginning, the possible consequences or opportunities from a situation, both the good and the bad, is indeed one of those things that separates the wise from the foolish. I’m sure that from their excitement, EcoMotors thinks that they are midwifing the birth of a great new thing. Time will tell how wise they are.