A Highly Efficient, Compact and Affordable Engine

After months of analyzing test data, improving simulation code to better reflect what’s happening in the real engine and some design improvements, The ultimate performance of the Clarke-Brayton engine keeps getting clearer – and for the first time we can confirm that it can do all of this while meeting stringent NOx emissions standards using conventional aftertreatment systems.

A recent design improvement from the mind of Chief Scientist and inventor John Clarke improves power density even further:

On the left is a 359 horsepower Clarke-Brayton V6 compared to a 325 horsepower Cummins 6.7L on the right

On the left is a 359 horsepower Clarke-Brayton V6 compared to a 325 horsepower Cummins 6.7L on the right

Above is a comparison of a Clarke-Brayton Engine in a V6 configuration on the left putting out 359 horsepower compared to a 325 horsepower Cummins 6.7L I6 – both engines are compared at the same mean piston speed. In addition to the clear advantage we have in size and weight, the reduced amount of material will also reduce cost.  Further, the Clarke-Brayton Engine is naturally aspirated so the expense of turbos and aftercoolers are eliminated and only 1/3 the number of fuel injectors are required leading to considerable cost benefits.

A naturally aspirated engine has dramatically improved transient response, meaning when you depress the accelerator, the engine responds with more power and speed immediately, eliminating the so-called “turbo lag” suffered by virtually all conventional diesels.

The engine also shows a remarkably flat torque curve and extremely efficient operation at all conditions, as shown in the indicated thermal efficiency map below.

Indicated Thermal Efficiency Map of the Clarke-Brayton Engine

Indicated Thermal Efficiency Map of the Clarke-Brayton Engine

Peak indicated thermal efficiency is 59% (for you engine nerds out there, this includes gas exchange/pumping losses). More impressive is that efficiency remains well above 53% even in low-load, low speed conditions where vehicles spend most of their time operating.

Our friction model predicts peak brake thermal efficiency at near 55%, compared to 42% for today’s best automotive diesels.

This engine promises to have great benefit to a number of applications including heavy-duty and medium-duty trucking, automotive, marine and power generation. It’s ability to use natural gas as a compression-ignition fuel – the subject of a future post – further increases its attractiveness in a number of segments.  We’ve been talking to a number of interested potential strategic partners and are excited about finding the perfect relationship to help propel this technology to market.

Have all the important inventions already been invented?

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled “Economists Debate: Has All the Important Stuff Already Been Invented?” documents the arguments of two economists at Northwestern University.  Robert Gordon, the more famous of the two and someone who commands $20,000 per speaking engagement argues that all the inventions that can have a major improvement in standard of living have been made and as a consequence, the average growth rate in the U.S. will stabilize at half its historic rate of 2%.  Joel Mokyr takes the opposite position and points out that this same prediction has been made repeatedly over the last 150 years and it has always been wrong.

Thomas Edison - the greatest inventor of all time.

Thomas Edison – the greatest inventor of all time.

I must say I agree with Mokyr.  Gordon makes the argument that past inventions such as electricity had direct positive impacts on people’s  lives whereas new energy technologies should not be counted the same way since they are merely mitigating damage from previous technological innovation rather than directly improving lives. I think this is a very short-sighted analysis.  Looking at energy, the west has been dependent on countries that are hostile towards them for energy but at the same time desire the west’s money.  Today it is more clear than ever that this relationship has plunged the west into numerous wars where thousands of lives are routinely lost and an enormous drag is put onto the economy.  Our lives are so dependent on the energy we get from these volatile regions of the world that markets boom and bust with every hint of trouble or stability. Technologies like horizontal drilling, fracking and our Clarke-Brayton engine can eliminate our dependence on hostile powers for energy, ending the need for massive loss of life and continuous strains on our economy.  These technologies are directly and massively impacting the lives of all Americans.

Gordon rates the internet as a relatively low-importance invention, often asking people what would they rather give up, their iphone or the flush toilet and he says that smart phones are just a minor improvement over the original telephone.  But how many times have you heard people say, “What did I ever do before smart phones?”.  Smart phones are not just portable telephones.  They are a portal for instant access to virtually all human knowledge that you carry in your pocket.  You can get answers to questions as mundane as where is the nearest gas station or as obscure as what were the traditions of the Mayans to mark the summer solstice.  In the past information that required days of planning and trips to university libraries can now be obtained in seconds from the moment you realize you want to know it. The implications for business, governance, technological innovation and simple personal satisfaction cannot be exaggerated.  If I had to choose between giving up smartphones or the convenience of the flush toilet, I would give up the flush toilet.

The only way the U.S. will be able to continue to improve quality of life for the lower and middle classes will be through innovation. Our current standard of living has advanced to the point that industrial manufacturing jobs for all but the most complex products are often not sufficient to maintain Americans in the style to which they have become accustomed.  Entrepreneurship, science and technology driving new technologies and new industries is our best chance for continuing to grow our economy and improve our lot.

Motiv Releases Design of MkII Clarke-Brayton Engine

I have been woefully absent from these pages the last several months since we started the design effort on the new engine. I am excited to finally be able to share what the team has been working on so dilligently.  The MkII Clarke-Brayton Engine is the next step in dramatically reducing fuel consumption in trucks, automobiles and generators without increasing costs.  It is also the next step in developing a highly efficient compression-ignition 100% natural gas engine that can meet the up-coming greenhouse gas emissions regulations. This is a boxer configuration split-cycle engine implementing what we have come to call the Clarke-Brayton cycle.  The thermodynamics of this engine are virtually identical to our previous “CCI” design but are implemented in a much more conventional way.  Everything that we published in our SAE paper at the 2013 World Congress holds true for this engine, but many of the difficulties related to the old engine are resolved.

MkII Clarke-Brayton Engine

MkII Clarke-Brayton Engine

Section of the MkII engine

Section of the MkII engine

As with the previous design, in the MkII air moves sequentially through three cylinders, starting at the mid-sized cylinders at the top of the section image. This architecture allows us to achieve a 56:1 compression ratio leading to a 30MPa peak pressure.  It has far less surface area for heat loss than a comparable conventional diesel due to the very small bore of the combustion chamber. The small combustion piston area leads to lower forces on the crank than a conventional engine would have if it were able to reach similar pressures, reducing rod bearing friction compared to conventional architectures. A lack of net forces on the main bearings due to the opposing forces of the piston pairs reduces main bearing friction compared to conventional engines. It expands exhaust gasses all the way to ambient pressure before the exhaust stroke.  Gas transfer from one cylinder to the next is begun at equal pressures on either side of the valve, which keeps velocities low, minimizing pumping losses and eliminates blow-down. The power is produced in almost a 50-50 split between the combustion (central) and exhaust (largest) pistons.  There is a power stroke every revolution. All valves are actuated by overhead cams. Piston ring sealing is completely conventional, eliminating the dynamic effects of the old design and greatly reducing the reciprocating mass.

The major components of the MkII Clarke-Brayton Engine have already been released to the foundry for casting and everything else should be released for fabrication within a couple of weeks.  We will test this summer at a globally renowned engine development lab and I hope to have results to share shortly after that.

A team of just three people designed the MkII from a back-of-the-napkin idea to a fully developed test engine in 7 months.  Azra Horowitz and John Clarke have both put in herculean efforts to get this done in time despite a couple unexpected thorny technical challenges along the way.  I could not be more proud to be working with them.

Babson Magazine Article

We do not focus much on PR around here (yet), but an article was just published in Babson Magazine that features us called, “Risky Business with a Purpose”.  It was a real pleasure speaking with Donna about Motiv and kinda fun doing the photo shoot out in Brooklyn with people stopping and staring wondering if I’m someone famous.  Sorry for the disappointment, people!


“I’m Bored With All Games”

“I’m Bored With All Games.”  That is something that Mark Pincus, founder of mobile game maker Zynga, said recently at a gathering of tech entrepreneurs in Israel. I have to say that I am not surprised.  Entrepreneurship and running a rapidly growing company (or a company struggling with growing pains) is enormously hard.  To keep doing it, you need real passion for what you are doing.  I can imagine that it would be difficult to maintain that passion for mobile games after a while.  Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that games are not a worthwhile thing to start a company around. I’m a big fan of Zynga games “Words with Friends” and “Scramble with Friends”.  I’m glad Mark has made these available to me!  But he has made his money.  He has more than likely accomplished all the goals he set out with for Zynga and more.  I bet he has started yearning to make a different kind of impact on the world.

John, Azra and Abhishek discussing aspects of engine design.

John, Azra and Abhishek discussing aspects of engine design.

I’ve become kind of a snob about this after two startups dealing with major global problems.  But I also get a bit jealous.  Every time I hear about another startup that allows people to share more pictures of cute animals or babies in slightly different ways than before getting bought out for a billion dollars my outward reaction can be something like, “what a waste of time and money that could have been put to good use”, but inside I’m totally jealous.  The developers of these “technologies” had no real technical challenges in making it work.  Any software engineer can crank that kind of stuff out.  There is no risk that they won’t be able to figure it out.  They just have to figure out how to get people to use it (not easy of course) and BAM! One billion dollars one year after founding the company.  Sounds awesome.  But if a company is really trying to do something new that solves a really big problem, things are somewhat different.

So after I get over my jealousy I realize that after enormous success, these entrepreneurs often yearn to do something like we are.  And I must say, I cannot think of a more exciting or satisfying place to be right now.

Johns Hopkins University launches incubator

My alma mater, Johns Hopkins, has been building it’s focus on entrepreneurship education over the last several years and I have been honored to be able to be involved in judging the business plan competition and speaking to the students.  Now with an incubator to help jump-start fledgling companies, they are upping their game.  It’s about time too as they fell behind many universities who recognized the importance of entrepreneurship education early-on, even though Hopkins has an enormous built-in advantage and incentive: they do more research than any other university in the country.  The intellectual property that results from that research can provide enormous opportunities not just for the university to make money through commercialization, but for the students to create businesses around those technologies.  As some students will succeed in these ventures, it will in turn reflect well on the university and all students who matriculate there.

But this is important not just for the university, but for our country as a whole.  I am currently reading “The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1896-1905” by Aaron L. Friedberg.  It has me wondering how the US will side-step the same fate as Britain and I am convinced that remaining the global leader in intellectual property creation and commercialization, i.e. startups, will be a key part of any successful plan.  According to the Kauffman Foundation, new business startups declined in 2011 from 2010, but remain relatively high compared to the pre-great recession era.  I hope this is not the beginning of a down-trend.  We are not going to gain economic strength primarily through manufacturing or exploiting natural resources as other countries have significant advantages over us, even with our newly accessible natural gas reserves.  Our greatest advantage is our higher-education institutions, the risk-taking and ambitious nature of our populace (and the people that feel the pull to immigrate here), and a fiscal and legal structure that makes creating valuable businesses relatively easy here.

Thoughts on Scuderi Group SEC violations

When John emailed me the Green Car Congress article about the SEC issuing a cease and desist order to the developer of the Scuderi Split Cycle Engine, I was shocked.  There really are two major kinds of violations here.  When a private company raises money by issuing un-registered securities (in other words, the company has not done an IPO and follows requirements to issue all sorts of information to inform and protect investors) they must ensure that their investors are what the SEC calls “accredited investors”.  This is to protect the public from scams or other malfeasance of companies soliciting investments.  Turns out they raised $80 million dollars, a number that floored me given the limited progress Scuderi has made, and much of that from non-accredited investors way beyond any exceptions that a company can claim.  Not only that, but they actively tried to hide these violations from the SEC, which means it is not just a case of not knowing the law but a premeditated effort to get away with breaking the law.

The second violation is even worse. Salvatore Scuderi used millions of dollars that he raised from investors to fund personal expenditures of family members who provide no services to the company.  These payments have been characterized as loans, however there is no documentation stating the term of the loan, the interest rate, or any collateral to secure the loans.  Mr. Scuderi is subject to a $100K fine, and the SEC is requiring the Scuderi Group to define the terms of the loans and to disclose these non-company related use of funds over the last 12 months (but apparently not earlier violations) to new investors.

This seems to me like an absurdly light slap on the wrist for these kinds of activities.  I am saddened by these revelations for a number of reasons.  The history of novel alternative architecture engine developers has several instances of inventors promoting performance that violates the laws of thermodynamics.  Any legitimate engine developer often has to overcome this history in building credibility with potential partners and collaborators.  Now we must deal with one of the most highly promoted and well-known alternative engine developers actively scamming their investors.  I hope the fallout with this is limited mostly to Scuderi and not other companies and individuals working hard and ethically to solve huge complicated problems.

A Healthcare Cost Idea

In light of the supreme court ruling today, an idea occurred to me on a way companies can lower their healthcare costs.  Things that many companies do cause many to have negative gut reactions (pun intended) such as suggesting they go on weight-watchers, and some practices that may seem discriminatory.  How about paying for entry fees to competitive sporting events such as running races, triathlons, bike races, etc?  This would at first really excite those who already compete, and get others interested in taking advantage of this unusual benefit.  Then, people who might never have thought of training for and entering a running race will be lacing up a pair of trainers.  Pretty soon I bet you would have an athletic, healthy culture building within your company.  Not only would you lower your healthcare costs, you would improve employee morale, loyalty, productivity and just have more fun overall.

VC “Brokers”, “Consultants” and other people who want to raise money for you.

If you are an entrepreneur and you need to raise money, you will inevitably find people who want to help you raise money through their amazing connections and relationships with major investors.  You can decide to deal with these people as you want, but you should be aware of the facts.

First, if they want money in exchange, the transaction is illegal unless they have a series 7 license and I have never come across someone engaged in this activity who has a series 7.  If you ask them about this, they will usually tell you that they are not charging a fee for raising money, but for facilitating an introduction.  My securities lawyer tells me that in the unlikely event that the SEC wants to take notice of the situation, this will not hold up in court.  I say unlikely because the SEC almost never goes after these guys, but that does not make it legal and it does not mean the SEC might change their mind.  When your startup becomes successful want to do an IPO or be acquired by a public company do you want to have an illegal securities transaction looming in your past, even if the chance it will be a problem for you is small?

Now let’s look at the likelihood that these people will be successful for you.  They say they have all these valuable relationships with big-time investors.  If you had these relationships, would you just send them dozens of business plans trying to get them to invest in all sorts of random companies?  Of course not!  If these people really were your friends or associates, they would stop taking your calls after the second or third time you shilled some inappropriate risky investment to them for your own personal gain.  Therefore it is very unlikely that their “connections” are strong at all.  The success rate of these people is often very low, and many people who have tried to sell these services to me I suspect have a 0% success rate.  It is not uncommon for them to request an up front non-refundable fee to cover their expenses!  Sometimes they will also want equity!  Would you pay up front for your dinner if you only had a 10% chance of ever getting it?  I didn’t think so.

I suggest you make real connections with real connected people.  If you really impress one of these people, you might get an introduction to an investor and they will not want you to pay them for it.  They are getting value because they are providing value to their connection by making the introduction.  How do you meet these people?  That is probably a whole other topic.  Happy hunting.

Managing resources in a startup

When it comes to resources, a startup should minimize and control, vs. maximize and own. *

This is one of the most important lessons I learned while earning an MBA in entrepreneurship at Babson.  It minimizes the capital you are required to raise, making fund-raising success more likely, it maximizes return for your investors (pre-money valuation is uncannily linked to how much money you need to raise), and reduces your burn rate, extending the amount of time you have to get through the inevitable problems, changes of direction and surprises that come along the way.

At Motiv, we gained access to the CCI technology through a license with Kansas State University’s Institute for Technology Commercialization.  We thought very carefully about resource management when crafting this agreement – specifically we thought about patents and cash.  A startup needs control of its intellectual property (IP) in order to create value and to have all options open when it comes to an exit, or god forbid, in an orderly wind down to minimize investor losses.  Because of this, we made sure that Motiv is the sole assignee of any new CCI patents that we apply for.  But patents cost a lot of money, and knowing that we will be creating a lot of IP increases the amount of money we need to raise up-front in order fund this essential part of our business.  So how do we get around this?  It turns out that Kansas State understands the need of a startup to control it’s IP, but they also want a financial stake to benefit from these future patents that are derivative of their assets.  We were both happy to include a clause that allows for KSU to reimburse us for patent prosecution costs in exchange for a royalty and a convertible note (a loan that can be converted to equity at a later date).  It’s kind of a back-door, pay-as-you-go funding mechanism.  That’s money we do not have to raise from traditional investors, equity that we do not have to give away until we need it, and it lets us and potential investors know that we have a very solid intellectual property plan that is a major part of our sustainable strategic advantage and a massive barrier to our competitors.

The next example is how we engaged our engineering team and obtained an engine assembly and test facility.  These are by far our largest expenses and therefore the most important to think about carefully.  Our technology was invented at Caterpillar and our Chief Scientist was the inventor at Cat.  For other experimental projects he had worked on, Cat contracted this group of independent engineers to help them, so the relationship was already there, they had excellent relevant experience, and the recommendation of one of the best engine designers in the world.  They also have their own facility.  Traditionally, a company would need to hire all of its engineers, rent a building, finance hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and these would become the major fixed costs of the business.  That means those costs are an un-alterable part of your burn rate, or the amount of money you spend every month.  We want, if we can, to make everything a variable cost, so that we can adjust our burn rate to match the changing needs and situations we will run into and make much more efficient use of our cash, and postpone for as long as possible the date that we would flame out, or run out of cash.  So we hired the group as contractors, where we pay them for only the hours they work, and we rent the facility for only the time we make use of it.  This means that when we have a time where we are done testing and designing for a couple months and are focused on business development activities, we can reduce our burn rate to pretty near zero if we need to!

These arrangements for the early-stage structure of our company have given us so much flexibility and freedom from cash worries that it has to be seen as a tremendous advantage for us to reach eventual success.  It also reduces the amount of money we need to raise, allowing us to keep much more of our equity and it raises the potential return for the investors. So many entrepreneurs have a vision of glamor where they have a beautiful facility of their own and a hierarchical structure that is part of their empire-building scheme that the traditional world has trained them to value.  They need to learn that startups are not often glamorous and that ingenuity and innovation are to be valued over empire-building and budget size.

* Timmons, Jeffry. New Venture Creation, Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century. Boston: IRWIN/McGraw-Hill, 1999. Print.