April 19, 2012 | by Bill Gates
EcoMotors: Reinventing the Internal Combustion Engine
Over the last 100 years, the internal combustion engine has transformed almost every aspect of how people work and live. Now, a small company called EcoMotors is proposing a radical overhaul for this century-old workhorse.
One of the things that excites me about clean energy innovation is the potential to create affordable energy that lessens the impact of climate change and—at the same time—turbocharges our economy.
That’s one of the reasons why I attend events like the recent ECO:nomics conference in California and speak out frequently in support of increased federal funding for breakthrough energy research. Incremental improvements in energy efficiency and new technologies are necessary.
When I first came across a Michigan company called EcoMotors, I had the feeling their work on a new engine for cars, trucks and marine transport might be one of these big breakthroughs. My friend, Vinod Khosla, thinks so too, which is why we both decided to invest in the company.
For the last few years, EcoMotors has been developing a high-efficiency engine to replace the conventional gas and diesel engines in use today. Compared to the dramatic technological advances we’ve seen in other areas, the internal combustion engines that most vehicles use today haven’t fundamentally changed in over a century. They’ve been significantly refined over time, but not dramatically simplified. That’s key, because simplification brings enormous gains in efficiency.
EcoMotor’s engine design uses 50 percent fewer parts, which means they are lighter and smaller than a conventional engine and have better fuel economy and lower emissions.
Interestingly, EcoMotors first got interested in commercial applications for the opposed-piston opposed-cylinder engine technology while working on an engine for an unmanned helicopter for the federal government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This is not the first time that research done through DARPA has been used to develop breakthrough technologies. DARPA’s history of support for innovation led to the development of the Internet and the Global Positioning System.
If EcoMotors’ technology takes off, it would be another example of how a modest federal grant spurred innovation that created entire new industries and economic growth. To illustrate how breakthrough innovation in energy can come about in unorthodox ways, we asked EcoMotors to explain how their technology works.