Students from Oklahoma State University began researching alternative fuels while on a Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) team. In 2009, after successfully raising funds to run on Ethanol (E-85), Matt and myself (Michael) decided to try to convert the car to compressed natural gas (CNG). \ This was a huge undertaking for a student run organization, and would be the first of its kind in the USA. During research of natural gas vehicles (NGVs), a common problem was discovered concerning the adoption rate of NGVs. This problem was taken as an opportunity to a few students, who decided to set out to solve it. The student team, CleanNG, wrote a business plan to resolve these issues and gained its first traction after being accepted in the Riata Center for Entrepreneurship’s Cowboy Idea Hatchery.
The Cowboy Idea Hatchery, is a business incubator, located in the Spears School of Business building at the Oklahoma State University campus. The Hatchery assists student entrepreneurs who have started a business, by providing them with resources such as: computers, desk space, a conference room, business supplies, and support services including advisors and in-residence entrepreneurs.
The Hatchery has been a great resource to us, we’ve been able to leverage so much from the resources that this program provides. Also the ability to collaborate with other entrepreneurs and address common problems has helped accelerate all the companies in the program. CleanNG was accepted into the incubator in May of 2010 and formally organized as an Oklahoma Limited Liability Company on October 1, 2010. The founding members consist of R. Matt Villarreal, Michael Tate and Jacob Crawley.
Matt Villarreal, CEO and inventor of the technology, came up with CleanNG’s initial product while working on the OKstate Racing teams CNG initiative. He took every opportunity to develop the idea during his entrepreneurship coursework. He gained the most traction while working on it in a technology commercialization course in which students write a business for an existing OSU technology, provided by one of the scientist working at the university. “The professor pulled the idea that my team was suppose to work on, so I told the professor I had an idea of my own, and asked may I pursue it?”
CleanNG took its plan to the test, competing in the 2011 Riata Big Idea business plan competition, against more than 100 other teams. CleanNG received second place, and $10,000 in funds. The competition also provided resources such as free lawyer hours, and additional consulting through the Riata Center.
With this momentum, the company began executing the business plan, starting with research. The team began applying for research grants to continue to develop its product idea. Soon after receiving the Riata funds, CleanNG also received an Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) Innovative Ideas Program grant for $25,000.
“The EDGE grant has really helped accelerate our company,” said Matt Villarreal. “These funds have helped us secure lab time at the OSU Helmerich Advanced Technology Research Center, Next Generation Materials Lab, as well as test the material against American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standardized material tests, to compared the viability of the product to Department of Transportation tests that must be completed down the road.
The DoT has created some extreme condition tests that tanks must pass before being viable on the market. These tanks are tested against destructive tests such as being exploded with dynamite, shot with an AR-15 assault rifle, bonfires, hydrostatic burst tests, drop tests and others that help guarantee the safety of the vessels on American roadways.
CleanNG is on the fast track of developing the next generation of natural gas vehicle products.