Can a well-known General Motors Engineering veteran help an upstart powertrain technology company commercialize its products—and help it land $200 million in U.S. federal grants? Don Runkle says he relishes the challenge, after recently joining Troy, MI-based EcoMotors International as CEO.
Runkle brings top credentials to EcoMotors, which aims to launch a broad portfolio of advanced propulsion technologies, including an opposed-piston opposed-cylinder (OPOC) two-stroke multifuel engine, electric turbocharger, and auxiliary power unit (APU).
The former Vice Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Delphi Corp., Runkle is best known for a dynamic 31-year GM career prior to Delphi. It included Vice-Presidencies of Advanced Engineering, North American Engineering Operations, and the Energy and Engine Management group. He was also Chevrolet’s Chief Engineer.
“I was attracted to EcoMotors by its interesting and creative engine technology, its IP (intellectual property), and by the innovative Peter Hofbauer whom I’ve known for many years,” Runkle told AEI. “I realized it’s time to take it out of the lab and into production.”
EcoMotors was founded in 2008 by Hofbauer, an expert in advanced-combustion engines. The startup was bankrolled by green technologies venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.
The company employs 25 at R&D facilities in Michigan and Santa Barbara, CA. It is seeking $200 million in federal loans to build diesel and flex-fuel OPOC engines at a former GM plant in Livonia, MI.
Hofbauer was chief of Volkswagen’s engine development when the company launched its light-duty “clean” diesels. He later joined FEV and spearheaded its OPOC two-stroke engine project, which was unveiled at the 2005 SAE World Congress.
Hofbauer also created another company, Advanced Propulsion Technologies (APT), to focus on OPOC work. The APT engine was developed under a program sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA). Hofbauer brought the APT development work with him to EcoMotors.
Working with Runkle is John Coletti, EcoMotors’ President and COO. Coletti most recently was head of Ford’s high-performance vehicle programs, a role which capped a 33-year career at the automaker.
Runkle describes the EcoMotors engine as a “power module.” It is initially targeted at military, commercial, and marine applications because of its high power density, compact packaging, relatively low mass (approximately half the dressed engine weight of a conventional diesel) and multifuel capability.
The 100-year-old OPOC concept has proven successful in armored vehicles (Rolls-Royce K60 and Kharkiv 5TDF tank engines), military and civilian aircraft (Junkers Jumo aero engine), and naval vessels (Fairbanks-Morse marine engines), among others. The design offers a 25-50% reduction in the bill of materials, claims Runkle. Fewer components help reduce overall mass, as well as production and maintenance costs, while increasing reliability.
Unlike some OPOC engines, which use twin crankshafts, EcoMotors’ engine features a single crank. The piston speed of OPOC engines is typically half that of a typical ICE running at the same rpm.
The two-stroke cycle’s potential to double the power density of a comparable four-stroke also is attractive for the markets EcoMotors is targeting. Runkle explained that power densities exceeding one hp per pound are achieved by inherently low internal friction, as well as by direct gas exchange aided by an electrically assisted turbocharger also developed and patented by Hofbauer.
EcoMotors’ turbo system includes engine-management controls developed by the company. The turbo system provides “very high cylinder-scavenging efficiencies,” said Runkle. “Our test data shows we can meet current emission regulations for passenger and commercial vehicles. And we believe we can meet passenger-vehicle regs without needing urea aftertreatment.”
The design also exhibits heat-rejection characteristics “significantly lower” than conventional diesels, Runkle said.
The engine is designed to operate on various grades of diesel fuel or the heavier military JP8, JP5, and DF2. “Liquid fuels are the right answer for engines in this sector, because they offer high energy content and are affordable,” Runkle asserted.
As of late September, EcoMotors had two engines running dynamometer regimes, with emissions testing a priority.
“We’ve actually got two-and-a-half engines that have accumulated dyno hours and have provided robust data,” Runkle noted.
He said the company is “a couple years away” from having engines ready to sell. Until then, he and Coletti will focus on operations, allowing Hofbauer and his small team of engineers to ready the OPOC technology for prime time.
For more about OPOC engines, check out SAE's just-published book on the subject called Opposed Piston Engines: Evolution, Use, and Future Applications by Jean-Pierre Pirault & Martin L.S. Flint. SAE technical papers include 2006-01-0278—Opposed Piston Opposed Cylinder (OPOC) 5/10 kW Heavy Fuel Engine for UAVs and APUs, and 2006-01-0277—Opposed Piston Opposed Cylinder (OPOC) 450 hp Engine: Performance Development by CAE Simulations and Testing.