VisionTech Angels’ Executive Director Ben Pidgeon recently sat down with Rita Hansen, CEO of Onboard Dynamics, to learn more about how the company’s GoFlo® compressors are enabling municipal and commercial fleets—waste haulers, school buses, delivery companies—to replace diesel fuel with clean, zero-carbon emitting natural gas. Interest in the mobile natural gas compressors is high, particularly in states that have mandated all waste haulers move to green-powered vehicles by 2020. Rita, who recently represented the United States as a delegate to the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in The Hague, Netherlands, will present Onboard Dynamics during VisionTech’s upcoming Pitch Week, August 26-29. Read on!
BP: VisionTech Angels is excited to host Onboard Dynamics during our August Pitch Week. What’s your story?
RH: Jeff Witwer and I co-founded Onboard Dynamics in 2013 with Dr. Chris Hagen after licensing technology developed in Chris’ clean energy systems lab at Oregon State University (OSU) and initially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Jeff is a serial entrepreneur with experience in the energy and software industries. My interests are clean technologies, alternative energy, and renewables that present opportunities domestically and internationally. We saw the tremendous potential of natural gas compression technology to lead the clean fuel revolution in a way that disrupts the status quo without being disruptive to fleet managers and organizations.
The company got immediate validation. After we licensed the technology, ARPA-E, a government agency that advances energy technologies with the potential to radically improve the U.S. economy, national security and environmental wellbeing, awarded us a $6.6 million cooperative agreement. This allowed us to develop and now commercialize a product from the technology, the GoFlo compressor. We just recently hit $1 million in sales!
BP: Nice! We like revenue! What problem are you solving in the marketplace?
RH: The macro problem is a global lack of infrastructure for refueling natural gas vehicles. Currently there are fewer than 1,000 public compressed natural gas stations. These refueling stations are also expensive; they cost more than $1 million to build. If you have a fleet of more than 50 vehicles, the cost can be justified. But for small fleet operators, you need an option that’s more affordable and in many cases, more flexible than a fixed fuel station.
Another big problem we solve is the push—and in some cases, a mandated push—to convert fleets of vehicles to clean and/or renewable energy sources to reduce emissions of regulated pollutants like NOX and reduce one’s carbon footprint. NOX is a very poisonous emission of diesel fuels. Some people are turning to electric vehicles; I’m sure a few of you drive Teslas and love them. But electric vehicles for fleet use—school buses for example—are very expensive. And in many cases, the electricity to fuel these buses comes from coal-generated electricity. So where’s the win in that?
BP: How easy are these compressors to use?
RH: The GoFlo compressor makes the transition from diesel to natural gas-powered vehicles easy and affordable. It can be used in a fleet yard or off-site. It doesn’t require electricity to run, which is great for remote locations and disaster situations. And it accepts any low-pressure natural gas or renewable natural gas source for compression into a cost-effective, clean fuel for vehicles.
BP: What types of fleets are you targeting?
RH: We’re targeting government and commercial fleets, including light duty CNG trucks, school and transit buses, delivery vehicles, and a big one for us, waste haulers. California has mandated that the waste hauling industry move to alternate fuels by 2020, creating a significant market for us. What makes the GoFlo compressor attractive to this group—beyond regulatory compliance—is the refueling system pays for itself in less than two years due to lower fuel and labor costs
One of our customers, an independent waste hauler in Southern California, is going live with a full system in mid-August. They’ve agreed to be a showcase for the more than 100 other similar independent waste haulers. The total market size of independent waste haulers in Southern California alone is 150-200 companies. We’ve also piloted GoFlo with a number of school districts and getting traction there.
BP: Are there other markets for GoFlo, here or internationally?
RH: Glad you asked that, Ben. Natural gas utilities are perfect channel partners for us as they can sell the GoFlo compressors to their customer or offer as “Compressed Natural Gas as a Service” with monthly billing. We are also working with Canada’s Department of Natural Resources to certify GoFlo for the Canadian market. We’ve received payment toward the first unit and expect to start installation in Ontario in late fall with full deployment in the first quarter of 2020. Other markets such as Mexico, Latin America, and India represent opportunities to expand due to a lack of natural gas infrastructure and also a real need reduce air pollution.
BP: What kind of IP protection do you have?
RH: The original technology has two international patents, and we’ve applied for six PCTs (patent cooperation treaty) on the compressor for national and international protection.
BP: Why should VisionTech Angels invest in Onboard Dynamics?
RH: As a nation, leaders in business, and members of the global community, we have a responsibility to adopt green energy technologies to protect the world for future generations. With the GoFlo compressor, Onboard Dynamics has a practical solution that meets government, business and social goals. It reduces emissions, its carbon neutral, it leverages existing natural gas pipeline distribution systems, and saves money. Our team is really good, too. Even with our lean sales team, our pipeline is full. We expect to sell 15 units in 2019 and 55 in 2020. We’re a company that’s in the right place at the right time.