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.

Launching the Design of the Mark II Engine

What an exciting week!  I finally got the new office 90% ready and our new team showed up on Monday to begin work.  The first thing to do is introduce our new engineers.

Seated around the conference table in the new office from left to right: Ed O'Malley, John Clarke, Azra Horowitz, Abhishek Sahasrabudhe

Seated around the conference table in the new office from left to right: Ed O’Malley, John Clarke, Azra Horowitz, Abhishek Sahasrabudhe

Abhishek Sahasrabudhe came to us after finishing his MS in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford.  He has experience working on an advanced engine efficiency technology at Bosch Automotive.  He was a graduate research assistant at Stanford where he was also a teaching assistant in the finite element analysis class.  Abhishek completed his BS in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pune in India where he graduated first in his class.

Azra Horowitz recently completed his BS in Mechanical Engineering and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied internal combustion engines under Dr. Wai K. Cheng.  He has designed a novel organic rankine cycle engine for powering submersible unmanned autonomous vehicles and was the winner of the Sherman Math Prize at Wesleyan University.

I could not be more pleased with our team, their knowledge of engine thermodynamics and design, and their enthusiasm.  It makes Motiv a very exciting place to be and we have already launched the design effort on the new engine.  This work is being done in our new office, of course.  Here are some more pictures, before we got started working in it.

Desks with Dell M4700 mobile workstations and 23" second monitors.

Desks with Dell M4700 mobile workstations and 23″ second monitors.

Brainstorming/meeting area

Brainstorming/meeting area

Break area.  Fridge and microwave to be added to the already well-used coffee maker!

Break area. Fridge and microwave to be added to the already well-used coffee maker!

We started the week out with a review of engine thermodynamics, as well as general engine design concepts implemented in applications ranging from model airplanes to Ferrari Formula 1 race cars.  It was a great way to get the gears turning (pun?) and prepare our minds for the task ahead!

Preparing for Orientation Week

Kickoff day for the design of MkII of our engine is coming soon – September 23rd. Our two new engineers, Azra from MIT and Abhishek from Stanford, will be starting that day and John will be in town for the week.  I’m busily getting the new office ready.  As you can see, it is still mostly empty.  It’s 1350 square feet in Midtown South in Manhattan on West 36th Street. I will post pictures of it once it is done.  Furniture is being delivered tomorrow.  I have the new Dell M4700 mobile workstations and 23″ monitors as well as a new PowerEdge server. Our design software should be here tomorrow.  Here is a before picture.  I’ll post more pictures once everything is all set up.

Our new, empty office

Our new, empty office

Somehow popular lore makes it seem like orientation for a startup should be full of games, lavish parties and tons of promotional gear with quirky logos.  Ours will be a little bit more like jumping into the middle of an advanced graduate thermo-sciences semester… But for us that is actually fun! I can’t wait until we finish the first part kick-off meetings so I can watch how the engine is born and see what it looks like, part-by-part.  I considered having the first orientation task for the engineers be unpacking and assembling their desk and chair, but that does not seem very welcoming, so hopefully I will have all that done before they arrive!

Volvo’s new E-DRIVE Diesel with i-ART fuel injection

This article caught my attention from a tweet by SAE on the debut of Volvo’s new diesel engine. The main advancement described in the article is a more accurate closed-loop control system for fuel injection that includes a pressure sensor in each injector rather than just a single high-pressure rail sensor.

Volvo iARTThis quote from the article confuses me as to how big a breakthrough this actually is:

Fuel consumption of the new engines is reduced by 10-30% compared to units of similar output but of larger capacity, Crabb claimed. Denso engineers have stated that i-ART can improve fuel efficiency by 2%, compared with open-loop systems.

So is this a truly revolutionary improvement or another small incremental step? It is unclear from this quote, but my guess is that under certain conditions, they are improving efficiency by 2% – sometimes. So if you start with 40 mpg, this system could improve it to 40.8 mpg under certain conditions.  Of course this is only a guess.

Something else that I found very interesting is that they are using ball bearings for the cam shafts.  This can clearly have benefits on reducing friction, but ball bearings have always been avoided on engines due to a lack of load capacity and longevity.  I wonder how they are solving this problem!  Knowing Volvo, I am sure that these bearings have been tested six ways to Sunday.  Interestingly enough, in our first CCI prototype we used ball bearings as main bearings because we were not overly concerned with longevity in that lab-only prototype.

New Team, New Office, New Engine.

Some big things are happening at Motiv Engines!  As the title says, we have a new team of engineers, a new office in Midtown Manhattan, and a new engine design.  I will introduce the engineers to you soon.  The engine itself may take a while before I can give details, but I can provide some key ideas behind it.  We get possession of the office on September 1, and I’ll give a little online tour of it after it is up and running.

With our first prototype we did not run into any thermodynamic surprises, but we did have some issues related to the mechanism.  There are several things that we are doing mechanically different than the norm, and some of these things proved tricky. When we modified our thermodynamic simulation to include the mechanical things that were going wrong, the results perfectly matched our experimental data.  This gave us even more confidence that our theory is strong, but the mechanical implementation was lacking.  So now we have a new design that addresses all of those issues.  It should be vastly simpler to build, assemble and maintain, and believe it or not, it will be even smaller.  Thermodynamically it is exactly the same.

In mid-September the new team will begin detailed design of the new engine. We hope to have the new engine in a test cell having produced data in less than a year.  It is a very exciting time!

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.

Is a Tesla more efficient than a conventional car?

Tesla motors has been a shining beacon for electric vehicles, rising to prominence whilst most of their brethren buckle under financial, technical and market problems.  Tesla has been able to produce an extremely high quality product as evidenced by its receipt of the highest possible grade by Consumer Reports.  The savvy and patient management by Elon Musk has allowed the company to make it through many inevitable challenges without running out of cash to make the big commercial push.  Most people assume that not only is the Tesla a sexy high performance sports sedan, but also that it is extremely efficient and great for the environment because it is electric.  But is it?

Is a Tesla more efficient than a gasoline car?

Is a Tesla more efficient than a gasoline car?

How does one measure efficiency?  Simply put, how much of the energy available in the fuel is turned in to kinetic energy to move the car?  In a conventional car, this is how much of the chemical energy contained in gasoline is turned into rotational energy by the internal combustion engine.  In modern cars, this turns out to be about 30%.  But this is the best efficiency point of the engine.  A more realistic point to choose is 25%. To figure it out for the Tesla (or any grid-charged electric vehicle) is a little more complicated.  First you must find out the efficiency of the power plant generating the electricity, whether it is coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar or wind.  From 2000 to 2009 the overall efficiency of US power generation increased from 35.5% to 40% thanks in large part to a 50% increase in the use of natural gas at the expense of coal, and to a lesser extent, the increase in renewable sources of energy which still account for only a minor fraction of the energy mix.  Next, there are losses involved in the transmission of the electricity from the plant to the charging station for the electric car.  The DOE estimates these losses to be 9.5%.  Next, there is the charging and discharging cycle for the batteries, estimated by the DOE at 85% and 95% respectively.

The results:

Efficiency of the Tesla: 29.2%

Efficiency of a gasoline car: 25%

And for self promotional purposes, the efficiency of a vehicle powered by one of our CCI engines: 52% (or with waste heat recovery, significantly higher still)

What does this mean?  Well, the cost of fuel to the end user of a Tesla is a lot less than that of a gasoline car, but that is at a huge up-front expense that you are unlikely to recover over the life of the vehicle.  Is there a marked difference to the environment?  That takes another analysis regarding the emissions of different kinds of power plants vs. gasoline engines (and then merits looking at natural gas powered vehicles!).  But the takeaway should be that while the Tesla Model S is a great car, if your motivation for purchasing it is to save the planet, you’ve got to think a little deeper before writing the check.

Note* this article was modified from it’s original by using an efficiency less than the best point for a gasoline engine as a more realistic scenario.  Thanks to SuperDuper from MotorTrend forum.

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Trucks – Benefits, Challenges and Solutions with the CCI Engine

We are all familiar many reasons for transitioning from gasoline and diesel in the transportation sector to alternative power sources – the environment, national security, and economy to name three.  Greenhouse gas emissions controls are expected to go into effect in the near future in the US and there are very few options conventional engine manufacturers have for lowering GHG emissions other than making more efficient engines – an effort which is becoming more and more difficult.  Natural gas has lower GHG emissions than diesel or gasoline at the same efficiencies so it can be a solution to meeting these upcoming federal regulations. The relatively recent unlocking of massive amounts of natural gas reserves gives us a compelling candidate fuel.  Adding to the advantages above, the massive domestic supplies of this fuel mean it is much cheaper, giving it potential to reduce US_Natural_Gas_Productionshipping costs and therefore reducing costs of all sorts of goods people rely on.  But it is not without challenges.  Compressed natural gas (CNG) is limited in range because you cannot store a lot of fuel on board a vehicle.  LNG allows for greater range, but it must be kept in cryogenic tanks.  If the fuel is not used quickly and warms up too much, some must be vented to the atmosphere which is bad for the pocket book as well as the environment.  This characteristic makes it a difficult choice for regular passenger vehicles which may sit in a garage for several days without being used, but it is an excellent choice for trucking when one can be certain that the vehicle will be on the road every day and is responsible for 15% of our use of oil and 75% of the oil we import.

There is already some serious effort going in to increasing the size of the national LNG fleet.  Cummins Westport is offering an ever-wider selection of high quality engines.  With the support of natural gas super-promoter Boone Pickens, Clean Energy Fuels is building out a network of LNG fueling stations – a key prerequisite to making more LNG trucking a reality.  The low cost of the fuel makes it very attractive as a method of lowering shipping costs, but it comes at the price of higher up-front costs.  The engines and fuel tanks are expensive, causing trucks to cost approximately $100,000 more than diesel trucks.  This is a significant hurdle.  The New York Times recently published an interesting article on this subject.

As I outlined in an earlier post, the CCI engine has an inherent advantage to the natural gas engines available today. Prices may have moved a bit since that post, but the cost advantages remain very compelling.  To recap, a conventional spark-ignited LNG engine has a brake thermal efficiency of around 27% whereas we expect that we will be able to build a CCI engine burning LNG with a brake thermal efficiency in excess of 50%. Therefore operating a diesel truck costs $0.18 per horsepower hour, a spark-ignited LNG engine $0.14 and a CCI engine $0.07.  In addition, an analysis on full-production costs of the CCI engine performed by Caterpillar Inc. when the technology was still under their umbrella put it in line roughly with diesel engines, lowering the up-front price required for a fleet to purchase a natural gas truck.

The CCI engine used in a LNG truck can make a huge impact on the costs of operating a truck fleet and therefore the costs of almost all goods transported in the US.  It can significantly reduce the risk we face with our reliance on foreign sources of energy and it can provide a method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on an economically beneficial basis.