EcoMotors, With Navistar as a Customer, Pushes Forward With New Engine

It’s been just over five months since I first met with Don Runkle, CEO of EcoMotors International, to discuss the big plan he’s had for his Allen Park, MI-based company’s opposing piston, opposing cylinder (“opoc”) engine. EcoMotors claims that the engine, which weighs less, uses fewer parts and is thus less expensive than traditional four-stroke engines, can increase automobile efficiency between 15 and 50 percent. The technology, he says, also helps fleets reach the new corporate average fuel economy standards put out by the government.

In the past few months, the company has won some high profile customers, including the Chinese automotive parts maker Zhongding Holding Group. EcoMotors has also signed a three-part customer contract with Navistar (a deal EcoMotors founder Peter Hofbauer alluded to but couldn’t name in my conversation with him earlier this year).

Navistar (NYSE: NAV), the truck and engine company, will continue to develop the opoc engine to hit certain emissions and fuel efficiency targets. It will also go into production with the opoc engine in its vehicles and a generator set, says Runkle, who will be speaking at Xconomy’s Michigan 2031 forum next week.

With these few customers in hand, EcoMotors is continuing to test and develop its engine to validate its claims. “The effort really for the rest of this year is to get lots more data,” on the engine’s targets for fuel efficiency, emissions, and horsepower, says Runkle. The company had aimed for its engine to hit 240 horsepower, and it’s surpassed that in tests this year, hitting 292 horsepower, Runkle says.

The company is prototyping opoc engines for generator sets, and expects to have its engine demonstrated in a Class Six size truck (think Fed Ex vehicles) sometime fourth quarter of this year, Runkle says. It’s also fine-tuning the engine with a lower horsepower, of around 80hp to 100hp. This could boost the range of vehicles like the Chevy Volt, or be doubled in cars to improve efficiency. One opoc module could turn off in situations requiring lower power needs, like city traffic.

EcoMotors is looking to a Michigan crop of engine developers to turn its prototypes and research into commercial realities. The company has hired three computational fluid dynamicists to run combustions tests on its product prior to building. “We try to do that in math and simulation before we make the hardware; it’s faster and less expensive,” says Runkle.

The company also wants the federal government to help. EcoMotors is looking to few manufacturing sites formerly occupied by Big 3 automakers for future production, and has applied for an advanced technology vehicle manufacturing loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. Uncle Sam is in the final stages of analysis for that application, Runkle says. EcoMotors has also applied for a grant to develop a clutch for its duel module opoc engine (where two engines are stacked for greater efficiency).

“The Detroit area is a good place for us to be recruiting from and to,” says Runkle. “We’re looking for engine people.”

Runkle should have lots more to say on why Detroit and Michigan are ideal locations for building a forward thinking engine company. So come check him out at Michigan 2031, a forum that will brainstorm the innovation landscape in Michigan—in areas like life sciences, IT, cleantech, and transportation—in 20 years. Sign up here.

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