Amazing engines promise 60 to 100 mpg

Sep 26, 2012 by Jim Motavalli

It would be a mistake to count out the internal-combustion engine as yesterday's technology, soon to expire in a puff of exhaust gas. Electrification is coming, but meanwhile engineers have offered more innovation for the venerable gas engine in the last three years than they did in the previous 20. The result is 40 mpg on the highway, from four-cylinder power plants with the same performance as older V-6s or even V-8s.

Achates Power typifies the new thinking. Its target is a chronic polluter: the two-stroke oil burner normally seen in scooters, weed whackers, lawn-mowers and old Saabs. The East German Trabant used a two-stroke engine, which could usually be seen trailing a cloud of black smoke. It was rated by Time as one of the 50 worst cars ever made.

Achates, an engine developer based in San Diego, claims its opposed-piston, compression-ignition two-stroke diesel can power a 40-mpg (highway) economy car like the Ford Fiesta with a 50 percent or more improvement. Yes, 60 mpg is possible, the company says, while also meeting the tough smog/ regulations that automakers soon will face.

According to CEO Dave Johnson, the Achates innovations include two cylinders in one and eliminates both the valve train and cylinder head, "giving us tremendous efficiency advantages." It also uses less raw material and fewer components, but a completely conventional manufacturing process, which Johnson says will dramatically lower automakers power plant costs. Diesels also have an inherent fuel economy advantage.

Johnson told me all this, but Achates doesn't actually have a car to show the press, proving its claims. I'm impressed that the company's fuel lab boasts "laser Doppler anemometry and laser-induced fluorescence," but I have no idea what it means. The privately held firm hasn't signed on any high-volume automakers, though it boasts a string of Ph.D. engineers and backing from big names such as Sequoia Capital, RockPort Capital, Madrone Capital, InterWest Partners and Triangle Peak. Its founder is Dr. James Lemke, who initially drew investment from the late John Walton, son of Walmart's Sam.

Before I proclaim this engine the greatest thing since sliced bread, I'd like to see it much further down the road. I'd want to see independent fuel economy and emissions validation. I'd want to see noise, vibration and harshness studies. I have unpleasant memories of the Trabant. Frankly, I've had other meetings with "breakthrough" engine companies whose tech never amounted to anything. One of the biggest hurdles for companies like Achates is to get major automakers - which have huge power plant R&D staffs, after all - to want to license their innovations. Unless Achates wants to start building cars itself, that's its only option.

Battery companies are in the same basic situation. Unless they're vertically integrated like China's major carmaker/battery producer BYD, they can't go it alone. Some battery makers, with A123 as a prime example, have grabbed the brass ring of auto partners, only to run into cash-flow problems waiting for those partners (including Fisker and GM) to ramp up into large orders.

The two-stroke concept remains intriguing to auto companies, despite some setbacks. "I probably spent $50 million of GM's money proving two-strokes don't work in automobiles," GM veteran Don Runkle told Popular Mechanics. But Runkle changed his mind, the magazine reported, when he encountered another opposed-piston design from EcoMotors' Peter Hofbauer that sounds very similar to the approach taken by Achates. EcoMotors raised $32 million from prominent investors including Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures. Grail, Pinnacle and Transonic are other companies working on two strokes. EcoMotors claims 100 mpg is possible in a five-passenger car.

Anyway, I applaud what Achates is doing, but wouldn't yet predict that tomorrow's cars will have 60-mpg opposed-piston, compression-ignition two-stroke diesels under their hoods. The fact that so many key investors are putting money into two-strokes is certainly encouraging, though.

Here's a techie video that explains more:

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User comments : 22

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kochevnik
1 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2012
What happened to the motor which separated two stages of combustion? It was supposed to be much more efficient than simply 60 mpg. Also I think a science site would use SI units not Imperial English from the 18th century.
88HUX88
not rated yet Sep 27, 2012
this is not a new idea, over thirty years ago I read about it historically being used in trucks and here it is in aeroplanes http://www.billzi...eas4.htm btw conventional two-stroke engines leave a trail of blue smoke, not black, this article should really be called amazing engine promises (with promises as a noun rather than a verb)
Pattern_chaser
5 / 5 (2) Sep 27, 2012
This is only news in America; it's old hat everywhere else.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Sep 27, 2012
Also I think a science site would use SI units not Imperial English from the 18th century.


There is no SI unit for fuel consumption, unless you want to use cubic meters per meter, or square meters once you simplify the units.

That's the funny thing about SI and the MKS unit system. If it's not meters kilograms and seconds, then it's some sort of convenience unit that is not really SI. Like the liter for example, which is a metric unit, but not a SI unit.

Perhaps you could use cm^3/hm or qubic centimeters per hectometers, which is the same size as liters per 100 km.

This is only news in America; it's old hat everywhere else


40 MPG is bog standard engine performance on diesels, without any sort of strange two-stroke system. A perfectly ordinary modern European turbo diesel will pull 45 US-MPG on a car like Ford Fiesta.
VendicarD
1.3 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2012
"A perfectly ordinary modern European turbo diesel will pull 45 US-
MPG on a car like Ford Fiesta." - Eikka

Impossible!

That would mean that American idiots are flushing half of their current fleet average 23mpg fuel consumption down the toilet with along with the rest of their country.

No one would be stupid enough to do that... Right?

dschlink
not rated yet Sep 27, 2012
The diesel engine on my submarine (build in the 60s) was an opposed piston 2-stroke design. I think we got about 200 meters per liter.

Since I have hit 29 mpg in a two-ton diesel van, 40 mpg for a car is a joke.
Hengine
not rated yet Sep 29, 2012
I like the tech video.

It's an old idea that can be much more readily analysed and improved with modern engineering technology.
Noumenon
4.4 / 5 (49) Sep 29, 2012
That would mean that American idiots are flushing half of their current fleet average 23mpg fuel consumption down the toilet with along with the rest of their country.


Diesel engines are notoriously dirty, and in the use the EPA has higher standards for such emissions. This means higher production costs. Also Diesel fuel is more expensive than gasoline in the U.S. because of industry demand, so that variable must be subtracted from the improved efficientcy of Diesel.

It's a similar situation as with electric cars,... the tech is still more expensive than traditional gasoline,.. so the overall cost benefit is mathematically ambiguous.

To say that it's because "American's are idiots", demonstrates that you have the mentality of a child, without the capacity to ask why in detail.

You still haven't told me what country YOU are from originally. If you live in the US, why? Why not move to Cuba for example? Are you a hypocrite or just a typical anti-American anti-capitalist dolt
Noumenon
4.4 / 5 (48) Sep 29, 2012
.....in the [USA] the EPA has higher standards for such emissions. [edit]
Noumenon
4.4 / 5 (48) Sep 29, 2012
,.... Also I forgot to mention the increased maintenance costs of diesel, another variable to subtract from the efficientcy difference. It's justifiable for long constant speed journeys, which is why it's used in industry.

Like all tech, it must compete with other tech, and comes down to cost,... so like electric it needs to improve in a few areas to be adapted for normal short, stop and go, driving.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2012
Diesel engines are notoriously dirty


American diesel engines are.

the EPA has higher standards for such emissions.


Not really. The European emission standards are continuously tightening, and now with the Euro 5 standards they are tighter than the EPA mandates on particulate matter emissions at 0.005 g/km versus EPA's 0.01 g/bhp-hr.

To make the comparison, you can estimate the bhp of an engine at 100 kph to be around 30, which means the EPA allows for 30 grams of particulate matter per 100 km, whereas the Euro 5 allows half a gram.

In practical terms that means the American diesels are still allowed to push out visible soot.
Noumenon
4.4 / 5 (49) Sep 29, 2012
American idiots are flushing half of their current fleet average 23mpg fuel consumption down the toilet - VD


According to JD Power and Associates, in 2008, 62% of USA consumers said they would consider a hybrid,... which is up from 52% in 2007,.. so is likely even higher today. This proves that Americans would choose more efficient cars if the economical conditions made rational sense,.. counter to your adolescent argument that it is because Amerocans are idiots.

Also, in Europe the tax on gas & diesel is so high that the efficientcy difference is magnified accordingly, so use of diesel is more readily adopted. The USA tax structure and economy is such that it is not possible to tax gas/diesel in this way.
Noumenon
4.4 / 5 (49) Sep 29, 2012
@Eikka,

Yes, I know that emission standards improve with time. The point which I responded to was, 'why Americans haven't adopted diesel cars', are they just idiots'.

I used data from three years ago as quoted below. Of course it is not reasonable to expect Americans to adopt to diesel cars, in just three years, while Euroeans have had decades to do so. Remember, the response was about why Eurooeans use diesels in half their cars while "idiot" Americans don't. Answer; historically different EPA standards, different tax system, difference economies.

"And then there's another challenge for diesels--stricter U.S. emission regulations. The 50-state light-duty vehicle limit for emissions of nitrogen oxides is 0.07 grams per mile. In Western Europe, the limit is 0.29."

http://www.popula.../4330313
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2012
The 50-state light-duty vehicle limit for emissions of nitrogen oxides is 0.07 grams per mile. In Western Europe, the limit is 0.29


But that's only true since recently. http://www.intege...america/

Up until 2007 diesel cars were allowed to emit 0.42 to 0.53 grams per mile. Much much more than the European counterparts at 0.40 grams per mile according to the 2005 Euro 4 standard.

Euro 4 standard cars would have passed the North American limits with flying colors until 2007, and even Euro 3 standard cars from 2000 would probably have passed the 2004 EPA limits.

It's a bit of a leapfrog game now, but the 2014 Euro 6 standard will again be tighter than what the EPA is doing, and historically speaking the Euro standard has been tighter for most of the time, which means you could have sold European diesels in the US if you wanted to.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Sep 29, 2012
There's also another important distinction to make. The EPA rules apply for a fleet average, whereas the Euro rules apply to individual cars. That means a car manufacturer could sell engines that push out all sorts of crap as long as they "balanced" it out by selling cars that emit very little.

Each bin has a varying level of stringency, and manufacturers may certify their vehicles according to any of these bins, subject to the proviso that the average nitrogen oxide emission level over the manufacturer's entire fleet must not exceed 0.07g/mile. Standards were phased in gradually over 2004-2006, with full compliance for new 2007 models


Before 2007, the de-facto emission limits for diesel engines sold in the United States were much more lenient than anything sold in Europe.

Noumenon
4.4 / 5 (48) Sep 29, 2012
historically speaking the Euro standard has been tighter for most of the time, which means you could have sold European diesels in the US if you wanted to.


Recall that I am speaking about several decades as it takes that long to adopt to the level of diesel light cars as is used in Europe.

I believe that is a unfounded statement, especially since there was no NOx standards before Euro3 in 2000,... while the EPA Tier 1 standards of 1994 existed for NOx.

[We're speaking about Diesel light cars,.. not heavy Diesel vehicles]

One of the reasons cited (as I linked above) why more diesel light cars in Europe than in North America, is EPA regulations. I mentioned several other factors.
Noumenon
4.4 / 5 (48) Sep 29, 2012
There's also another important distinction to make. The EPA rules apply for a fleet average, whereas the Euro rules apply to individual cars. That means a car manufacturer could sell engines that push out all sorts of crap as long as they "balanced" it out by selling cars that emit very little.


Yes I saw that,... in addition the testing methods are also different between EPA and Euro,.. so it appears a little messy and ambiguous to "prove" one way or another.

What is certain is that Europe has more diesel cars available,.. therefore manufacturers have not been able to justify the USA market, while at the same time, as the above JD-Power pole demonstrates, Americans want such higher efficiency cars.
Noumenon
4.4 / 5 (48) Sep 29, 2012

Yet another source citing US emission regulations as causing increased cost per vehicle,....

"German automakers seem dead-set on exporting their "clean diesels" to the United States. However, to sell a diesel engine in this country, it must be equipped with an exhaust after-treatment system, and a special fuel injection system in order to meet our strict air quality rules.

European emissions rules allow a diesel to emit up to 0.29 grams of nitrous oxide (NOx) per mile — which is about what the typical diesel school bus or trash truck emitted 5 years ago."

http://www.practi...-usa.htm
packrat
2 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2012
You guys are forgetting some very fundamental differences between the US and Europe. In the US up until the last generation most people preferred 'muscle' cars. Ones that had some serious horsepower. That is changing now with the latest generation of people and they are much more open to the idea of diesels, electric, etc.... Europe never really had the 'muscle' car scenario going and the gas taxes have always been much higher than in the US. People in the US really didn't have any reason to switch over to small high mpg engines until gas prices started going up and smog became a problem in large cities. Diesel systems are starting finally to get popular in the US especially in personal trucks and larger suv's but it's taking time. People in the US still remember the fiasco from the last time that car companies were trying to sell diesel cars and the older generation is still a bit 'gun shy' over them.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Sep 29, 2012
there was no NOx standards before Euro3 in 2000


You have to remember that there was no European Union as we know it now before around 2000. There were national standards though, with varying restrictions, until the Euro standards were adopted.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2012
while the EPA Tier 1 standards of 1994 existed for NOx.


But did not apply to the whole fleet of cars, so they were essentially irrelevant.
Newbeak
5 / 5 (1) Sep 30, 2012
If you want to wring more power and efficiency out of a diesel (or gas engine,for that matter),BMW's turbosteamer technology looks promising: http://en.wikiped...osteamer