Written by Jerred Ziegler.
For businesses that own fleets of vehicles, low fuel costs can mean the difference between a year in the red and a year in the black. In the race to identify alternative sources for fleet fueling, a new frontrunner is emerging – compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG is made from highly pressurized methane that burns cleaner and provides the same mileage as gasoline or diesel. Currently, most small to medium-sized fleets can’t take advantage of CNG because of the high cost of compressing it into a fuel source.
Simple-Fill of Columbus, Ohio, has developed a patent pending compressor that allows companies with smaller fleets to take advantage of CNG at a much lower cost. These affordable compressors are half the cost of conventional compressors, are made with off-the-shelf hydraulic parts and are expected to be low-maintenance for many years. This essentially eliminates businesses having to depend on large-scale CNG refueling stations by allowing them to use low pressure and low price gas from business and residential lines to fuel their vehicles.
“CNG offers the opportunity to lock in fuel costs directly with the gas supplier, whereas conventional fuels require a process of hedging which is not practical for small to medium-sized fleets,” said Rob Underhill, president of Simple-Fill.
The Simple-Fill technology was developed at The Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR). After receiving some initial funding from Honda to create a model of the compressor, Simple-Fill received an investment from Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier. This investment allowed the company to complete its proof-of-concept and attract potential investors.
“Rev1 is fantastic. We wouldn’t be here without them,” said Underhill. “The environment they’ve created where entrepreneurs can come and work to find seed funding is a huge benefit to the Columbus community.”
Simple-Fill just finished raising its latest round of funding totaling $800,000, including a Technology Validation and Startup grant from Ohio Third Frontier. They’ve used this money to create an alpha prototype, the first version of the compressor used for testing purposes. The company has also partnered with Safelite, the first fleet to use its technology to fuel their vehicles.
“We are very excited about our partnership with Safelite,” said Underhill. “This will allow our company to validate the compressor technology in a commercial setting. We’re hoping other fleets will take notice and that this will set us up for additional sales in the future.”