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

10/4/11Follow @wroush

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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.

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

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  • Arnold Shore

    Re “there’s no cylinder head”: True, but there’s two crankshafts. And compression ration can be whatever you want in a conventional engine; it’s set for the expected octane ratings in the available fuel.

    So why the hype if the advantages are real????

  • Blaen

    Arnold:

    That’s not true. With a normal engine, changing compression ratios dynamically is not possible. With the engine described, it can change compression ratios at will.

  • http://gregarious.com.au Eric

    I wonder why Pinnacle isn’t going the whole way and building a prototype car? The engine is the hard part, the rest of it (body, chassis, trim) is very simple in comparison.

  • Andreas R

    Saab developed a variable compression engine and implemented working prototypes which combined with a turbo gave high efficiency and octane tolerance.

    Ironically, GM scrapped the idea when they bought Saab.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saab_Variable_Compression_engine

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxR-3Un6WkU

  • evo

    Slightly off-topic but hey… SAAB had a variable compression engine ( http://www.saabnet.com/tsn/press/000318.html ) Even been tested in 9-5′s and than GM ditched it. Probably because size mattered to them… more than efficiency (and in the end power…)

    Ah.. somebody beat me to it ;)

  • Sean

    Sounds like a Michael Moore documentary waiting to happen – anyone contacted the fellow, seriously?

  • Mike Love

    I think if you view the animation : http://pinnacle-engines.com/technology.html of its functioning you’ll see it all better. It’s incorrect to say “no cylinder head” it has valve mechanisms regulating flow…its simply integral to the main case/combustion chamber. It’s more of an engine inside out design. The key advantage as I see it is the higher Compression Ratio vs Stroke Length. This engine achieves the same CR with half the conventional stroke. This means less mechanical stress, higher RPM possibilities, better vibrational characteristics since its inherently self balancing in each bore, etc. It also may be possible to affect dynamic CR is by changing the valve timings, without the necessity of changing the base volumes swept per stroke. Otherwise it would require the central case/combustion chamber volume be changed to suit the fuel and applicaton.

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  • Larry Steiner

    Radical New Design? Variable compression ratio may be of advantage but Fairbanks Morse built OP engines for years. It’s not really that radical or new.

  • http://metalenergyblog.com Wesley Evans

    That was very well written and thanks very much for the info! I’ve been searching for quite some time but it’s hard to find quality content. Keep up the good work!

  • http://yourgogreensource.com/blog Ian

    Best of luck with your endeavors in Asia. If only the big auto makers in North America didn’t have that not invented here hang up the tax payers might not have had to bail them out a few years back

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