Local company aims to stretch mpg for commercial fleets
ENRG is a semifinalist in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.
A startup business that relocated from southeast Michigan to Grand Rapids this year is trying to market a new non-thermal plasma ignition technology the company founder says will increase fuel efficiency in commercial fleets of trucks and vans using gasoline engines.
Perhaps lending credence to ENRG Power Systems LLC is the fact that it is one of 53 semifinalists in the 2012 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and took awards in each of the last two years. More than 300 companies were entered.
So far, according to ENRG founder Milton Roye, the company is in the “pre-revenue” stage as it continues looking for its first customers in the commercial fleet market. ENRG — pronounced “energy” — has sold a couple of its ENRG Power System devices to Michigan State University for research purposes, but Roye said the ideal market is fleets hauling loads because that is where the greatest cost savings are to be had.
“If you were just driving to the grocery store, you wouldn’t necessarily see a lot of improvement, but the heavier the load, the worse the fuel economy and the better the job we do,” he said.
ENRG has an evaluation under way by a potential customer in Muskegon that is using the device on one vehicle, “and we’re looking to do the same here in Grand Rapids,” said Roye.
The ENRG Power System is claimed to offer reduction in gasoline consumption by 14 to 21 percent compared to engines using the standard spark ignition. It is priced at about $2,200 per unit, said Roye, and can be retrofitted to a vehicle in about two and a half hours. It also is claimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 55 percent.
A truck or van getting 14 mpg will recover the cost of an ENRG Power System in about two years, said Roye, based on 25,000 miles of travel per year.
Roye said the ENRG plasma ignition system was developed by an individual in New York. According to ENRG literature, plasma ignition uses extremely fast energy pulses to combust a larger portion of the fuel/air mixture than does standard spark ignition. It causes a leaner burn and higher combustion efficiency. Non-thermal plasma ignition reportedly has been proven to improve combustion efficiency by the U.S. Air Force.
Thus far, Roye is the only full-time employee of ENRG. A native of the East Coast, he holds an engineering degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a graduate degree from Harvard Business School.
Roye said he has worked in the automotive industry for more than 25 years, for companies such as General Motors and Delphi, as well as smaller firms. He has worked for a Swiss company and for Tata Motors, an Indian multinational automotive manufacturing company now producing the Nano car in India.
One thing Roye was well aware of during his years in the auto industry was the ever-increasing cost of fuel.
“People are finally concerned,” he said, “not only with saving money but also with the greenhouse gas emissions” from internal combustion engines. “It’s the right time,” he said, noting that reducing fuel use “has gone from a tree-hugger interest” to a more mainstream concern, with 16 states now having reduced emission requirements that come with higher miles per gallon.
“This is going mainstream,” he said. “It’s great technology.”
ENRG and its Power System have been entered in the annual Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition for the past three years. The competition awards cash prizes for first and second place, and also for companies in each of several business sectors.
“I won my sector the last two years. I’m actually the only two-time award winner in the program. It’s gotten me a lot of good visibility across the state with potential investors and potential customers,” said Roye.
According to the competition’s website, Roye was awarded $25,000 in cash last year to invest in his startup business. ENRG has also received $5,000 in seed money from the Start Garden fund launched by Rick DeVos earlier this year.
According to the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition website, it is an international business plan competition designed to bring together later-stage entrepreneurial companies with local, national and international investors. The competition is a showcase for what it calls “the best and brightest new business concepts,” with strategic exposure to investment capital that could help foster the growth of these companies within Michigan.
The competition is led by the newly formed Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan, which includes Ann Arbor SPARK, Automation Alley, Macomb-OU INCubator and TechTown, plus Business Leaders for Michigan, University Research Corridor and New Economy Initiative.
In 2011, 61 venture capitalists from 45 firms judged the competition.
Roye said the competition has entries from around the world.
“It’s part of the biggest business competition that is held in the U.S., with $1 million in prize money,” he said. The culmination of the year-long competition is in downtown Detroit Nov. 13-15.
If a company is awarded a top prize, it is expected to establish a business presence in Michigan if it hasn’t already. “That’s why the MEDC supports it,” said Roye.
Roye, who has been organizing his company from a home office, has no facility yet. He is excited about the future potential if he wins again in the Accelerate Michigan competition.
Roye previously lived in West Bloomfield but moved to Grand Rapids with his wife early in 2012, when she landed an executive management position with the Girl Scouts here.
Most entries in the competition are from southeast Michigan, but there reportedly are three other companies from West Michigan entered.
One of the entries is Ideomed, a Grand Rapids firm that produces the Abriiz device now being marketed for asthmatic youngsters to help them better manage the disease. According to the Accelerate Michigan website, Ideomed will begin offering a portfolio of self-management health care solutions, cross selling to a growing base of organizational clients. The portfolio currently is expanding to include Abriiz Heart to reduce heart failure readmissions, and Abriiz WaiPointes for women’s health.
Micro LAM is another entry, a startup by two professors at Western Michigan University who have been developing technology for improved machining of advanced ceramics, electronics and other optical materials.
TigerLAB, an entry from Holland, is an early-stage respiratory device company, according to Accelerate Michigan. This year the firm launched the Oxygen Flow Diverter, its first FDA-approved respiratory device. A second respiratory device developed by TigerLAB is expected to go on the market in 2015.