Pinnacle Looks Beyond Detroit as the Market for Its Opposed-Piston Engine

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leave the venture world, where he’d been consulting with NEA and several other firms, and jump back into management to help Cleeves build Pinnacle Engines.

“If you are going to make a real, fundamental difference in the next 20 to 30 years, you have got to deal with fossil fuel demand,” Hoge says. “I see the size of the problem as an engineer and I also see the challenge of incremental thinking—big, structured companies using 50-year-old technologies. Real invention comes from somebody outside with a passion, who’s not mired in the traditional thinking. That’s Monty.”

Of course, internal combustion itself is about as traditional as it comes. The problem is that alternatives like battery-powered electric vehicles don’t match the performance of gas-powered cars, and are still far too expensive for mass adoption. It’s only by rethinking the old spark-ignition engine that vehicle makers will be able to raise fuel economy while at the same time moving away from petroleum-based fuels, Cleeves argues.

“This engine has the capability to ease the transition from fossil fuels to bio-derived fuels,” he says. “The energy density of alcohol is so poor [compared to gasoline] that right now it has to subsidized. The variable compression ratio mechanism allows us to pull some of the efficiency out of alcohol that you wouldn’t get in a traditional engine. So you can have much greater fuel economy as the price point for alcohol goes higher.”

Cleeves and Hoge say Pinnacle’s next goal, after the scooter deal, would be to try the engine in a light commercial vehicle such as an auto rickshaw (known in popular parlance as a tuk-tuk), and then to continue “blocking and tackling,” as Hoge puts it, until the engine is ready to put into an actual car. “We are funded and we have proof points, but it’s not nearly at the point where we’ve got an engine that we can hand to an auto manufacturer,” he says. “The longer we can go independently, the better the deals we could structure. 2012 will be an active year. I’m very confident we will find a lot of interest.” Just not in Detroit.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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