The US technology company Achates Power develops radically improved internal combustion(IC) engines that increase fuel efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cost less than conventional engines. The company has 12 customers whose contracts include different engine applications for passenger vehicle, light commercial vehicle, heavy commercial vehicle, Military, Marine and stationary power. The Achates Power Opposed-Piston Engine (OP Engine) allows global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to achieve the most stringent current and future fuel efficiency and emissions standards without additional cost or complexity. Achates Power taps the Indian truck and bus makers for the New Age Engine. In an exclusive interaction with T Murrali of AutoParts Asia, Suramya Naik, Programme Manager and Chief Engineer and Business Development Manager, India, Achates Power Inc., said: “Our customers are looking for an upgraded version of their engines that can meet the next emission levels. Also, our opposed-piston is capable of handling multiple fuels”. Excerpts:-
Q: What is the present scenario at Achates.
A: Achates Power has now over 12 customers mainly in the US, Europe, China and India. The total market share of our customers is about 65-70 percent of the global vehicle market. We have over 100 people working in India. This year in Detroit Auto show we announced that we are going to have a vehicle demonstration in 2018. The company is now moving from prototype testing to more of Beta testing.
Q: Are these 12 customers using your engines or only planning to do so?
A: We are an IP company which has developed opposed-piston technology. When our OEM customers want to meet certain goals of their product with the opposed-piston engine, they come to us and we help design and develop engines for their vehicles. We are like a consulting company for them. Our business model is such that we don’t make money while consulting, we mainly make money on the licence royalty when engine goes into production.
Q: Does that mean you have 12 different royalties coming in now?
A: These projects are in different phases; they are all engaged with us for getting this technology for production. We have projects for engines from 50 HP to 4000 MW for cars, light trucks, range extenders in hybrids, medium to heavy duty trucks, US class 8 trucks (10-15 litre engines) and for ships. We also have customers who are designing engines for UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and aeroplanes with us.
Q: Have these customers deployed these engines in their vehicles for tests?
A: Not yet. We have also developed the Alpha-1 engine for the Defence sector but it has not yet gone for vehicle trials. However, our ship engine will be put into production first.
Q: For marine application, how is it going to help in terms of tonnes of fuel per km?
A: Even for big ship engines fuel economy matters a lot so we use opposed-piston engines that are cost effective. In power generation there is an additional advantage with two-stroke engines that can start very fast. They are also used as back-up engines in big power plants because they can supply power faster than the four-stroke.
Q: What are the benefits of these marine applications?
A: Our customers are looking for an upgraded version of their engines that can meet the next emission levels. Also, our opposed-piston is capable of handling multiple fuels. We have started a project in 2016 for 2.7 litre gasoline compression ignition engine with ARPAE (Advanced Research Projects Agency Energy) which is a US research organisation funded by the US government. They give lots of funding in different segments. Achates Power has got the highest award in the history of ARPAE; their interest is to get the best technology available in the market.
Q: How many customers do you have in India?
A: We have a few in Asia including India.
Q: India is now in a transformation – what Europe did in 11 years India is trying to do in three and a half years, going from Euro-4 to Euro-6. On those lines, is Achates Power helping customers to reach that level? What is the feedback from your customers in India?
A: Yes, we have published a paper recently in India on our engines meeting the Euro-6 emission norms. When Indian OEMs upgrade their engines from Euro-4 to Euro-6 the big problem is the rising cost and the reduction in fuel economy because of higher back pressure, EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) etc. The value we create in our engine is that the brake-specific fuel consumption (BSFC) is going to be so high that with after-treatment you will get 20 percent more in fuel economy. Without after-treatment opposed-piston can support Euro-6 but there will be a trade-off. Instead of a full DOC-DPF-SCR (diesel oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter, selective catalytic reduction) if there is an after-treatment that is cheaper, then we can have higher EGR. Basically, we can configure the opposed-piston engine to meet emission standards with different after-treatments; the fuel economy will not be 20 percent more than the existing engine but it will still be at par or even better.
Q: The opposed-piston gives two options – to go the cheaper route and have a trade-off in the fuel economy or go the regular route and get 20 percent fuel economy?
A: Yes, exactly. If you compare four-stroke engine with the opposed-piston engine the number of components in the latter will be lower but it will still have the 20percent plus fuel advantage.
Q: The cost benefit is very evident. In which case what prevents your customers from jumping into opposed-piston? What holds them back?
A: There are many companies looking at opposed-piston engines now; papers have also been published. All of them have concluded that it is at least 15 percent better in their applications. They are going towards the path of having opposed-piston as one of their products.
Q: Is there anything preventing the others?
A: What prevents them is that some companies are technology laggards. They want to wait till everything is developed and proven in the market before adopting it. We see this all over the world, even in the US. It depends on a company’s strategy.
Q: Wherever you go, people in general view that the IC engine is going to die. Do you think this will hamper the prospects of opposed-piston?
A: Not really, because there are several things. Electrification is the competitor in the light car segment due to its cost. Though OEMs in the US are under pressure to have electric vehicles in their portfolio, people are not buying. Some companies are losing money selling electric vehicles because even though the products are available in the market the consumer is not responding – especially now as oil prices are lower. People are buying bigger vehicles and the miles driven have gone up; in the US miles driven have increased 11 percent. It will take a few decades for EVs to penetrate the light car market. If the oil price remains stable, people who are cost conscious will go in for IC engines.
Q: Is there a sweet spot in this scenario for Achates?
A: There is no electrification or hybrids being talked about in the truck or CV segment. The large trucks with 5 litre or 10 litre engines will not see any electrification. Achates Power is in a sweet spot right now as it is fully geared to meet the 2025 CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations. We are in a good position because consumers are looking for immediate solutions that are cost competitive.
Q: Do you have plans of setting up a testing or demonstration centre in India like the one you have in San Diego?
A: When we are supporting our customers here, a time will come when it becomes more viable and appropriate to have a big support centre here itself to cater to them. The prototypes will then be tested at customer sites for which we will need testing facilities here.
Q: Does Achates outsource prototypes?
A: No, we develop the prototype ourselves. We have three engine test beds in California but in the US itself we may have to outsource some of the testing to other test beds. A stage may come when we could get some work done in India.