by David Johnson
President & CEO, Achates Power, Inc.
Since I joined Achates Power, I’ve often been asked, “Can an ‘outside company’ change the 100+ year-old engine business?” In our industry, there are few historical examples to reference. The most notable is the Wankel engine, which had some commercial success. Unfortunately, the engine didn’t deliver on the market’s request for a cleaner alternative. Today, we need dramatically more fuel-efficient engines that also meet emissions and all the other requirements of modern, conventional engines.
That being said, I’m quite optimistic about our chances for success. Read our technical publications and you’ll see why: our engine delivers unprecedented fuel efficiency and meets the toughest emissions standards. Our demonstrated results are clear, compelling and fully aligned with the scientific fundamentals.
That’s a good start, but what else is different this time?
For one, there has never been a greater need for more fuel-efficient engines. For decades, the industry focused on meeting ever tighter emissions standards and faced steep penalties for failure, so dramatic innovations were avoided. During this same period, U.S. fuel prices were low, so improving fuel efficiency was not a priority. As a result, the fuel economy of the U.S. auto fleet has not improved in 20 years. (Note: In Europe, where fuel prices are high, new clean diesel engines now dominate the market. Similarly, in commercial applications, where total fuel consumption is high, fuel-efficient diesel engines dominate.) But, now that the industry has met those strict emission standards and fuel prices are high, and going higher, the efficiency of conventional diesel engines is facing diminishing returns—making the time ripe for innovations that deliver significantly better fuel economy and maintain or improve other engine attributes, including cost.
Second, we have access to an incredible array of tools. Imagine what the engine pioneers from early last century could have done with chemically reactive computational fluid dynamics and high pressure fuel injection. Some of our CFD runs take eight days on our supercomputer. They would have taken 800 days 10 years ago. And these are essential to optimize the complex gas exchange process inherent in a two-stroke engine and to take advantage of the unique combustion geometries of the opposed-piston architecture.
Third, we got lucky. Our founder, Dr. Jim Lemke, had a great idea and worked closely with his visionary friend, the late John Walton, to build the company on a solid financial and technical foundation.
Finally, our timing was good. We were hiring in 2008 and 2009, when much of the transportation industry was downsizing, and were fortunate to attract a technical team from Ford, GM, AVL and other industry leaders.
So, yes, I do think the industry is ready for a new engine. . .a clean, more fuel-efficient and lower cost engine from Achates Power.