Students don’t always know what they want to do when they enter college, but that wasn’t the case for Felipe Gomez del Campo, who developed FGC Plasma Solutions in Cleveland, Ohio. From a high school science fair project to his undergraduate and graduate studies at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), Gomez has long been working towards a big breakthrough in jet fuel technology that could save billions—and the environment. Now he’s partnering with NASA to take this technology to the next level.
“My interest in the properties of plasma began in high school and haven’t faded. My graduate thesis focused on improving the efficiency of jet engine combustion using plasma,” said Gomez, founder and CEO of FGC Plasma Solutions. “We are designing a fuel injection nozzle that will boost the efficiency of how fuel molecules break down. Imagine a big, assembled Lego set. You have to break it into small pieces before you can build something new. It’s the same with burning fuel. Traditional engines break down molecules slowly. Our technology smashes it into small pieces quickly and more efficiently.”
Gomez also explained the complex science behind his plasma solution in terms of a gas stove; when you turn the gas down low, it will reach a point where gas still flows, but the flame extinguishes. This is the point at which the energy from burning fuel is not enough to keep the flame lit. At a congested airport, you might wait on the runway for 30 minutes. During that time, the pilot has to keep the engine running using the smallest amount of fuel possible. FGC technology could reduce that amount and result in one to five percent less fuel being used to keep the engine running. That’s an estimated $1 billion in savings a year, as well as a reduction in harmful emissions to the environment.
Felipe developed his technology at Case Western, conducting experiments he half-jokingly says were probably too dangerous for the labs he was working in. He received assistance securing crucial patents through CWRU School of Law’s IP Venture Clinic, which is associated with JumpStart, a northeast Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. With this assistance, Felipe and FGC have been able to continue developing and refining their technology without the threat of the innovative concept being stolen or replicated. Once the concept was validated, it was time to bring it to NASA.
FGC Plasma needed to test their science at higher temperatures and under greater pressure to mimic the conditions of a jet engine. Felipe and his team did that at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, one of only a few places in the country with a lab capable of tests on this scale. The team’s technology impressed the Department of Energy enough to admit FGC into its in inaugural four-company startup cohort entitled Chain Reaction Innovations at Argonne National Laboratory. There, they will work to scale the product.
Gomez’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. He was named to Forbes’ 2016 30 Under 30 in Energy in 2016 at just 22 years old. He says that while the recognition has been nice, it won’t mean anything until his technology is making a difference in the aerospace industry.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re in a great position to do it. Our technology has major implications, so it’s exciting to see others recognizing that, and it’s already opened a lot of doors for us,” said Gomez. “We continue to lean on the resources that helped us get to this point. JumpStart and Ohio Third Frontier provide such great support for startups in Cleveland.”