Gates, Khosla invest in EcoMotors' efficient engine

The Opoc internal combustion engine design, which can improve fuel economy by up to 50 percent, attracts $23.5 million in funding from Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla.

If you believe that high-profile investors add to your credibility, then the folks at tiny EcoMotors are having a good day.

Vinod Khosla and Bill Gates on Monday said they are the sole investors in a series B round for EcoMotors. The money will allow the Troy, Mich.-based company to complete engineering and testing of its efficiency-minded car engine, called Opoc.

CEO Don Runkle told the Detroit Free Press that the value of the investment was $23.5 million. Khosla Ventures provided a smaller series A round for the 2-year-old company, which has about three dozen employees.


To hear an interview with EcoMotors CEO Don Ronkle, go to 5:30 on this
video from the ARPA-E conference in March.

Although there's a lot of buzz around electric vehicles, EcoMotors' technology is rooted firmly in the mechanics of internal combustion engines.

Its Opoc engine breaks with conventional design by using two cylinders and four pistons, which increases the overall efficiency. Former Volkswagen executive Peter Hofbauer, who conceived of the design, said that Opoc can improve fuel economy by 30 percent in city driving and reduce emissions. The company claims a 20 percent to 50 percent improvement in efficiency overall.

The engine uses an electronically controlled clutch and turbo booster, explained Runkle in March during the ARPA-E Summit. Overall, the engine is half the weight and size of conventional engines, which reduces the cost by 20 percent. It can be used in conjunction with an electric motor in a hybrid design as well, he said.

The company's business plan is to license its technology to automakers or to engine manufacturers and to finish product development in 2012, Runkle said. The engine can be used for different applications, including cars, trucks, and generators, and in aerospace efforts as well.

In May, auto supplier Zhongding Holding invested $18 million to accelerate development of the Opoc technology.

EcoMotors is seeking a Department of Energy loan guarantee to manufacture the engines in an old General Motors plant.

Energy and climate change has become one of Gates' primary areas of interest. He is an investor in Khosla Ventures' green technology fund and has invested in other companies seeking breakthroughs in energy technology.

 

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