Achates Power is a 15-year-old San Diego company that is backing a two-stroke, opposed-piston engine technology as a path to improved fuel efficiency and lower engine manufacturing costs. Last month, Achates was awarded $2 million by the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, to spur development of a highly efficient opposed-piston engine for hybrid vehicles, in partnership with the University of Michigan and Nissan Motor Co.
Feds help fund smaller engine project
Achates Chief Technical Officer Fabien Redon, 45, spoke with News Editor Lindsay Chappell about what the funding will mean. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: Will the ARPA-E award aid Achates with its existing technology or take the company into new technology?
A: The heart of the engine is still the same. It's still an opposed-piston engine. But in addition to that, it will push things further. We now have the opportunity to replace a small multicylinder engine with a single-cylinder, opposed-piston engine.
What's the value of a single- cylinder engine?
There are several needs. Think about series hybrids and range extenders, which are becoming more popular and mandated in China. Or in Japan, there is the Nissan Note e-Power that uses a three-cylinder engine that powers a generator, and the power to the wheels is through an electric motor. So they wanted to use an engine that is powerful enough, but is very efficient and also low-cost.
The ARPA-E will allow us to take that further. We will use a motor generator to drive each of the crankshafts without a gear train or any crank connection. Being able to go to a single-cylinder engine, we're able to serve much larger displacements, which allows us to achieve higher efficiencies.
How much more efficiency does Achates envision?
Typically we've replaced an engine with about a 30 percent lower displacement. In this case, we would replace a three-cylinder small range-extender or series hybrid engine with a single opposed-cylinder engine. So reduce the number of parts and deliver higher thermal efficiency.
Why does ARPA-E care?
Their role is to accelerate the development of environmentally beneficial technologies and to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.
Is $2 million enough?
The funding is to take us to the first phase of demonstration of the capabilities. We will provide a lot of in-kind contributions to this project. Proof of concept is the goal.