Article Published: December 22, 2014
Article Published: December 22, 2014
Like many entrepreneurs, Colin Huwyler turned a passion into a business and a new market. Who knew his vision would turn into something that could save truck fleets hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual fuel costs while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
As a college student living in Buffalo and commuting to class, Colin Huwyler was racking up a lot of miles on his Volkswagen Jetta TDI. He needed to reduce his fuel cost, while addressing his concerns about sustainability and the environment. These were the sparks for his entrepreneurial vision.
Huwyler built upon the conclusion Rudolf Diesel discovered when he invented the diesel engine: you can use vegetable oil instead of diesel as a fuel. Realizing that a refined version of such biofuels could be much less expensive than diesel and could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, his vision started moving forward toward a solution.
Initially, Huwyler fitted his VW’s diesel engine with a DIY conversion kit to burn less expensive biofuel. He learned many lessons from this initial hobbyist solution and knew he could make it better.
“Over a couple of years with the system, problems would arise,” said Huwyler. “I got an idea to make it better. I wanted to create an easy, commercial-grade, bolt-on solution to convert diesel engines to biofuel.”
Huwyler moved from Buffalo to Allentown and then came to Pittsburgh, seeing it as an emerging center of Green technology and a place to launch his company.
Like many entrepreneurs with a solution, the next challenge was to identify and target a market that had a pressing need.
Huwyler did his research and learned that of all the potential markets, truck fleets consume the most diesel fuel. As businesses, they look to save on fuel/maintenance costs and reduce emissions.
Now Huwyler had a solution and a target market. Time for the next step.
Optimus Technologies was born in 2010 to develop and sell the patent-pending Vector System: a bi-fuel conversion system that enables diesel engines to run primarily on simple biofuel, with traditional diesel used at startup and shutdown.
Huwyler found initial support and guidance through the Idea Foundry to get Optimus up and running with cash and business-building expertise. Pittsburgh’s close-knit startup community continued to pay dividends for Huwyler. While pitching Optimus at a TiE Pittsburgh event, he met tech entrepreneur/Vocollect founder Roger Byford, who later became an investor, mentor and Chief Operating Officer with the company.
While engineering the system, Optimus worked on the business justification for fleets to purchase Vector. The competition included traditional diesel, as well as emerging solutions that use CNG or LNG. When they ran the numbers, they realized they had a winner.
“Unlike other approaches, Vector can provide a payback in less than one year for some fleets with much better emission results,” said Huwyler. “CFOs like to invest in a solution that makes financial sense as well as environmental sense.”
Optimus worked with the City of Pittsburgh to field-test the Vector System on five Public Works plow trucks. Vector will help the city address its “Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan (v.2.0)” which targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent between 2003 and 2023.
“Pittsburgh has been very accessible for us,” said Huwyler. “It’s great to see the new [Peduto] administration focused on innovation and the startup economy.”
With a solid foundation in place, Optimus’ next step is to grow the business. They are now building out their fuel partner network, along with a base of Vector resellers.
“Optimus is the market-leader in high-performance biofuel conversion solutions that utilize biofuel and diesel for medium- and heavy-duty truck fleets,” said Huwyler. “With Optimus, fleet operators have the simplest way to significantly reduce fuel costs and emissions, while addressing renewable fuel targets.”