Blog Post

Chinese auto giant building $200M factory to make EcoMotor’s efficient engines

Startup EcoMotors has reached a “massive inflection point” in the life of its business, as Khosla Ventures partner Andrew Chung explained it to me in an interview last week. On Tuesday the five-year-old startup, which is backed by Khosla, Bill Gates and Braemar Energy Ventures, announced that it has struck a deal to have Chinese auto parts giant Zhongding Power build a $200 million factory in the Anhui Province in eastern China that will make EcoMotor’s efficient, low cost and light weight engines.

The factory will be the first in the world building EcoMotor’s “opoc,” opposed piston, opposed cylinder engine, at a commercial scale. When it starts production in 2014, the factory will aim to produce 150,000 engines per year. There’s also an adjacent site that could expand production to 400,000 engines per year down the road.

EcoMotorsStrategic deals with huge Chinese companies are becoming a valuable way for Valley cleantech startups to move into commercial production and actually have a chance at succeeding. In particular Khosla Ventures has been adept as of late at helping its companies navigate deals in China.

Chinese parts company Wanxiang invested $420 million into GreatPoint Energy — a company based in Cambridge, Mass. that converts coal into cleaner-burning natural gas — in order to commercialize GreatPoint’s technology in China. LanzaTech, which turns gases emitted from industrial processes into biofuels and biochemicals, is working with China’s largest steel producer, Baosteel, as well as Chinese coal producer Yankuang Group. Khosla Ventures has invested in both of these firms.

By partnering with a giant like Zhongding, EcoMotors doesn’t have to raise and spend a lot of money on infrastructure. In return, Zhongding will sell the engines domestically in China — these particular engines will be powerful ones used for generators, off-road vehicles and commercial vehicles. Chung called the strategy “cleantech done right.”

EcoMotors’ engine can be 20 to 50 percent more efficient, 20 to 25 percent lower in cost to buy, and half the size and half the weight of a traditional engine. For car manufacturers the capital savings are even greater — at 30 to 40 percent — when using EcoMotors engine to build an efficient vehicle. When placed in a passenger light weight vehicle, the engine could deliver a 100 MPG, 5-passener, car.

The Chinese car market, as well as the engine market, are the largest and fastest growing in the world. And the Chinese government has set very aggressive goals to reduce the country’s air pollution and carbon emissions.

EcoMotors is a particularly unusual investment for a venture capital firm because the internal combustion hasn’t seen much innovation in decades. But the global trends of needing this innovation are clear: more and more countries are pushing for lowered car emissions, air pollution is a massive problem throughout developing countries, and the cars that will catch on in the price conscious developing markets will be cars that use fuel efficiently and thus save their customers money. Other startups working on efficient engines include Pinnacle Engines, Achates Power, Grail Engine Technologies, and Transonic Combustion.

Updated at 3:00PM PST, April 9, with mention of the deal with Baosteel, China’s largest steel producer.

7 Responses to “Chinese auto giant building $200M factory to make EcoMotor’s efficient engines”

  1. John Burns

    We have had over 100 years of R&D on existing engines designs. They have ironed out the reliability problems but it is still only 20% efficient. That is 80% of the fuel tank is wasted. Imagine what 100 years of development on this OPOC design would have given us.

  2. Damien Devilson

    As a former EM employee, I’m glad we’re selling this P.O.S. engine to the Chinese and that all the American companies were smart enough to see through the BS.

    Here’s some data EM won’t report: oil consumption is ~ 2 qts/hr, dyno engines fail under 50 hrs of testing, HP/Torque numbers have been downgraded thrice since the original OPOC SAE paper, Engine cost is THE SAME as a 4 stroke diesel of a comparable size, the engine cannot start on a single attempt!

    Anyone else find it odd that this company is 5+ years old and even though a manufacturing plant is supposedly being built for it, that there’s not ONE picture of the prototype engine available??? Instead, EM just keeps regurgitating that same CAD snapshots that they’ve used for the past 5 years.

    EM is the engineer’s equivalent to Enron in that they over-value their product in the hopes of duping some poor rich schmuck’s out of their money. I’m just glad those schmuck’s are Chinese and not good ol’ Americans.

    • John Burns

      Look at Youtube, there is picture of one running. It is an opposed piston engine, this is NOT new. The first opposed piston engine produced was by the French company Gobron-Brillié in 1900. It had one crank shaft (many Opposed piston engine have two or three). The EcoMotors engine very similar in design. In 1903 a Gobron-Brillié car powered by the opposed piston engine was the first car ever to reach 100mph.

      The module design with the electric clutch is a very good idea. That alone will make the vehicle very efficient.

  3. BMW has been using horizontally opposed twin engines in their motorcycles for the past ~70 years. Apparently patented by Karl Benz in 1896. I would be curious to know what is new and innovative here with the engine? Perhaps it’s more about the car design than the engine? Just curious.

    • John Burns

      Do a Google. The EcoMotors engine is very different to the BMW flat engines. The engines are moduled. Two engines can be coupled via an electric clutch. When more power is needed the second engines is clutched in. When clutched out there are no pumping losses when running. So running around town you have a small highly economical engine running and when accelerating hard, or heavy loads the second engine cuts in. Simple.

      There are no valves or a cylinder head.