Achates Power Refuels with $35M for Cleaner, Fuel-Efficient Engine

10/9/13Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego’s Achates Power says today it has raised $35.2 million in a Series C round of venture financing to advance its opposed-piston engine, saying its cleaner and more fuel-efficient design is gaining traction throughout the automotive industry.

Although details about the company’s work with automakers remains under wraps, Achates CEO David Johnson says the company’s engine could enable the industry to meet strict new U.S. standards that require an automaker’s fleet of passenger vehicles to average 54.5 mpg by 2025. While there are many ways for automakers to meet the fleet standard, including electric and hybrid electric vehicles, Johnson said Achates’ technology “will enable us as an industry to meet those goals more economically than anything else.”

In a statement today, Achates Power said existing investors Sequoia Capital Partners, RockPort Capital Partners, Madrone Capital Partners, InterWest Partners, and Triangle Peak Partners participated in the latest founding round. Including the latest round, Achates said it has raised a total of nearly $90 million since the company was founded in 2004 by James Lemke, an adjunct engineering professor at UC San Diego,

“The engine business is not a fly-by-night operation,” Johnson said in a phone interview this morning. “We’re very pleased that our investors continue to support us.” The cumulative total, he added, represents “a substantial commitment over a long period of time that’s necessary to bring this better engine to market at this time.”

The company has applied advanced materials and manufacturing techniques, multi-injector technology, and other engineering advances to re-engineer the opposed-piston, two-stroke engine. Achates says its design weighs about a third less than a conventional engine, requires less machining and assembly, and is less expensive and easier to manufacture.

After developing and demonstrating the advantages of its design over the past nine years, Johnson said the company is moving into much more of a structural commercialization phase, in which Achates is working closely with customers to design and build engines to meet each customer’s specifications. Confidentiality agreements preclude the company from identifying Achates customers. About Achates’ customers, Johnson would say only that the company has “more than a handful of partners.”

While Achates was initially focused on diesel-fueled engines, he said the design is “fuel agnostic” and can be adapted for use with natural gas and other fuels. Prospective uses range from unmanned aerial vehicles to stationary power plants, he added.

As a further sign of industry acceptance, Achates named five top automotive and commercial vehicle executives to an industry advisory board. The company says it is also one of six semi-finalists for an “Emerging Innovation Award” to be selected during a national summit on energy security to be held in Washington DC on Oct. 16.

The Series C funding and formation of an industry advisory board will help expand the company’s product development and commercialization efforts.

In addition to the company’s commercial customers, Achates says it also is continuing to work with AVL Powertrain Engineering to develop the next-generation combat engine for the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. The center, based in Warren, MI, oversees engineering and research for all military vehicles that need engines, from tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles to Humvees and “Class 8″ vehicles that move military supplies.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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