The developers of a gasoline-engine pickup on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit hope to enter the national conversation on fuel efficiency and emissions reductions.
Achates Power, a California-based engine developer, and Aramco Services, the transportation-focused U.S. arm of Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Aramco, will be jointly testing the truck, a Ford F-150 outfitted with the Achates engine.
The goal is to demonstrate that the truck’s unique 2.7-liter, opposed-piston, compression-ignition gasoline engine indeed delivers the 37-mpg fuel efficiency, 270 horsepower, 429 pound-feet of torque and 50 percent emissions reduction that Achates claims for it.
Those numbers, if substantiated in real-world testing, would make the Achates engine a revolutionary powerplant for full-size and light-duty pickups, which today average around 21 mpg.
Federal regulations — which still are subject to change — presently require light-duty pickups to average 33 mpg by 2025, a target the Achates gasoline engine beats by 12 percent.
“If every light truck had our engine, which represent about 40 percent of the market today, the fuel savings and the related reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating half of all passenger car production, cutting to about 5 million cars a year from 10 million,” said David Johnson, Achates’ chief executive.
“People are looking for reliability, good performance and efficiency, and if you can offer that you have a good chance,” said Michael Held, a Detroit-based automotive industry analyst with AlixPartners.
This is a good time to bring a new engine design into the market, Held said.
Auto companies, especially those with light trucks, “are going through heavy retooling and redesigning, especially in powertrains, to make sure they can meet future standards” for fuel efficiency and clean emissions, he said.
Saudi Aramco, which has a stake in continued use of fossil-fuel engines, is increasing its activities in the passenger vehicle segment and recently invested in Achates as part of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. The industry group is an alliance of major oil companies, including Aramco, BP, Shell, Norway’s Statoil, Spain’s Respol and Mexico’s Pemex.
Achates and Aramco plan a series of opposed-piston engine development projects, Johnson said.
The pickup demonstration is the first of the projects. The engine being used was developed by Achates under a $9-million grant from the federal Department of Energy.
The Achates opposed-piston engine can be configured to run on a number of fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas and various biofuels, Johnson said.
It uses the heat from tremendous compression of the fuel, rather than a spark from an electronic ignition system, to explode the fuel and drive the pistons.
In its diesel configuration, the same 2.7-liter, three-cylinder opposed-piston engine being demonstrated in the Achates-Aramco pickup would deliver 42 mpg, Johnson told Trucks.com.
The engine places two pistons in each cylinder. Each is connected to its own crankshaft. The design, based on the Atkinson-cycle engine developed in 1882, eliminates cylinder heads and valve trains, reducing engine complexity and cost while improving efficiency.
The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that it will cost about $1,700 per vehicle in additional technology to meet the 2025 federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements for light trucks. The Achates engine can help light-duty trucks meet the 33-mpg goal for less than half that amount, Johnson said.
The engine can be scaled up and down. One project underway is development of an Achates generator for commercial power plants in conjunction with Fairbanks Morse Engine, Johnson said.
Achates also is developing a high-efficiency diesel engine for the U.S. military in conjunction with engine giant Cummins Inc., and is doing additional engine programs for other vehicle manufacturers, Johnson told Trucks.com.
The military engine is a 1,000-horspower, 14.3-liter diesel for military fighting vehicles that also could be modified for use in heavy-duty commercial trucks, he said. It could also be scaled so small — a single two-piston cylinder model displacing about 0.5 liters — that it could be used as an on-board generator in range-extended electric vehicles, said Johnson.
The Achates-Aramco project involves continued refinement of the engine. Each company will be working in separate facilities — Achates in San Diego and Aramco Services in Novi, Mich., outside Detroit. Additionally, the two will jointly test the single pickup that’s been outfitted with a working engine, Johnson said.
The testing and ongoing refinements, coupled with work Achates is doing with several other vehicle manufacturers should result in commercial sales of Achates-engine equipped vehicles “in a couple of years,” Johnson said.
Johnson did not disclose the other partners.
Achates, founded in 2004, has attracted more than $150 million in financing, including private and government investment and payments from project partners, he said.
The private company’s most recent infusion was a $28.9-million investment in October from a number of private entities, including an undisclosed amount from the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.