By Danny King
Bill Gates is buying a stake of EcoMotors International, illustrating the Microsoft chairman's confidence in the development of the company's so-called OPOC engine, whose design is said to boost fuel economy by as much as 50 percent while cutting engine weight in half.
Gates, along with Silicon Valley-based venture-capital firm Khosla Ventures, invested a combined $23.5 million in the two-year-old company, said EcoMotors CEO and former General Motors executive Don Runkle in an interview with Green Car Advisor today. Runkle declined to disclose how much of the investment was from Gates or how big a stake Gates and Khosla will have in the Troy, Michigan-based company.
The investment illustrates how much confidence, Gates, who co-founded Microsoft in 1975, has in EcoMotors' Opposed-Piston Opposed-Cylinder (OPOC) engine, which was originally conceived by company Chairman and former Volkswagen head of powertrain development Peter Hofbauer. Using two pistons per cylinder that move in opposite directions, the two-stroke OPOC, which can run on fuels ranging from conventional gasoline to diesel to ethanol, doesn't require a cylinder head or valve train and cuts piston travel distance in half.
As a result, EcoMotors estimates that the OPOC engine is about half the weight and uses half the parts of a similarly-powered conventional engine, and may boost fuel economy by as much as 50 percent. For instance, EcoMotors' 300-pound EM 100 engine puts out 325 horsepower, or slightly more than one horsepower per pound. Additionally, because of its relatively small size, multiple OPOC motors can be paired and connected with an electronically-controlled clutch.
"The OPOC engine can be an important step in providing affordable, low-emissions transportation for the developing world," Gates said in a statement released by EcoMotors today. "EcoMotors has developed a promising technology that could help reduce levels of greenhouse-gas emissions in a low-cost, globally relevant way."
With the additional cash in hand, EcoMotors, whose president is former Ford Motor Co. executive John Coletti, has "a significant runway" to further develop the engine, which was used by European aerospace giant EADS in the diesel-hybrid-electric-powered helicopter it exhibited at the Berlin Air Show last month, according to Runkle.
The company is talking to "a number" of potential customers in the automotive industry and expects to deploy its engines in production vehicles within "a few years," said Runkle.