Onboard Dynamics Is Leading the Transition to Next Generation Transportation Fuels, Reducing Emissions, and Driving Down Energy Costs

By: Sarah Dickey, ACA Membership Director

Cutting-edge clean energy company wins Luis Villalobos Award, Technology category, from Angel Capital Association 

The United States has abundant access to domestic natural gas, but we have struggled for decades to find scalable, economic ways to leverage natural gas as a transportation fuel, despite its environmental and efficiency benefits. To use natural gas as a transportation fuel, it must be compressed so that it has the same energy density as gasoline or diesel liquid fuel.

In 2012, Dr. Chris Hagen was working in the engineering group at Oregon State University and received a seedling award from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) within the Department of Energy (DOE). The award money was dedicated to addressing the obstacles and barriers associated with adopting natural gas as a transportation fuel. Dr. Hagen’s original idea was to integrate the compression function onboard the vehicle. The CNG technology concept needed to be fully developed and commercialized to build out the necessary storage and refueling infrastructure to make it widely accessible to consumers.

In 2013, Dr. Hagen joined with two more brilliant minds, Rita Hansen and Dr. Jeff Witwer, and together, they founded Onboard Dynamics. The following September in 2014 the company received a $3.6 million follow-on award, launching the startup into its first phase of product development in 2016, they received another $3 million award from ARPA-E to achieve commercialization and product launch of their unique natural gas compression technology.

This week, Onboard Dynamics was awarded the prestigious Luis Villalobos Award for Technology, which recognizes the most ingenious and innovative idea recently financed by members of the Angel Capital Association (ACA.) The company was nominated by Golden Seeds, an angel funding group that met Onboard Dynamics at the annual ACA Summit in 2018. Since then, the angel group has worked to open doors for the startup and many individual members of the group have invested in the company. “Onboard Dynamics is a recognized leader in the clean fuel revolution, simplifying the compression and delivery of natural gas. Golden Seeds has been continually impressed by their novel solution, impressive team, and substantial progress,” remarked Cristina Almeida, Managing Director of Golden Seeds.

Today, the transportation sector remains one of the largest contributors to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (over 29%), and most of these emissions are carbon dioxide resulting from the use of gasoline and diesel. Fleet managers are increasingly interested in compressed natural gas and renewable natural gas as a primary fuel source – after all, these sources would lower their fuel costs and reduce emissions. Renewable natural gas is especially attractive, because it has a carbon-negative rating when compared to other fuels, and it is the cleanest alternative fuel available today, according to the California Air Resources Board. However, widespread adoption of natural gas-powered vehicles is limited by the availability of refueling infrastructure.

Building out enough refueling stations would be an enormous undertaking—the only practical way to do so would be to find a sort of force multiplier that would be able to match the impact of a number of existing stations with a single piece of infrastructure. Onboard Dynamics developed that missing piece with its first product to market – the GoFlo CNG80.

How does the GoFlo CNG80 leverage technology to solve these problems?

Onboard Dynamics has developed a way to compress natural gas by enabling any low-pressure natural gas line or renewable natural gas source to become a refueling location. The GoFlo CNG80 provides on-site, cost effective compressed natural gas fueling—without the need for electricity. It is mobile, so it could quickly make compressed natural gas available at many locations around the country. The company is targeting fleets of all kinds, shapes, and sizes – from waste hauling businesses to school bus districts. The technology can benefit any fleet desiring to reduce labor and fuel costs and cut emissions. Natural gas utilities can also use the technology to perform critical pipeline maintenance and address methane leakage.

The GoFlo CNG80 compresses natural gas at a throughput rate of 25-40 Gasoline Gallons Equivalent per hour (~40 - 80 Standard Cubic Feet per Minute). Onboard Dynamic’s technology is disruptive because of its mobility; its ability to operate at lower inlet pressures with higher flow rates; its lower installation costs (no electrical service required); and its lower operating costs for power (comparing electricity rates and natural gas rates.)

In addition to investments from ACA groups like Golden Seeds, how has the company attracted funding?

Since the company’s founding in 2013, it has leveraged over $6M of nondilutive funding from ARPA-E and other gap funding programs to develop and launch a unique product into the marketplace. They recently closed a $2.5M convertible note of private capital and had started on a Series A raise prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has elected to re-open their note to extend their runway while keeping sights on their Series A. Since Onboard’s first product launch, the company has generated over $1.5M in product revenues and deployed systems with eight paying customers: five large utilities, two independent fleet operators and one national fleet operator including a project partially funded by Natural Resources Canada. The Golden Seeds Network, a group of angels belonging to ACA, has worked closely with the startup to review commercialization plans, intellectual property, assess the competitive landscape, and evaluate the leadership team. In total, Onboard Dynamics has raised approximately $9.35 million to date.

What does the future hold for Onboard Dynamics?

Co-founder Rita Hansen believes that natural gas plays a critical role as a cleaner transportation fuel around the world. She anticipates growth from 24 million natural gas vehicles globally to 32 million vehicles by 2025, and she envisions Onboard Dynamics as the company driving that growth. “On behalf of my amazing team at Onboard Dynamics, I am honored and extremely proud that we were nominated by Golden Seeds and selected by the ACA judging committee for this prestigious 2020 Luis Villalobos Technology Award. This recognition validates the work we are doing to transition to a cleaner global energy footprint,” said Hansen.

To learn more about Onboard Dynamics, visit onboarddynamics.com. For more information about the Luis Villalobos Award, visit www.angelcapitalassociation.org/luis-villalobos-award/