By Brian Ervin
Copyright © 2012, Tulsa Business Journal
The MagmaCel linerless fuel tank for compressed natural gas hasn’t even gone to market yet, but it’s already getting buzz and generating demand from all over the country.
Matt Villarreal, CEO and co-founder of Tulsa-based CleanNG, said traffic on the company’s website has “increased exponentially” in recent months, and they’ve been increasingly inundated with product inquiries and order requests for the fuel tank.
“We’ve had quite a few product inquiries. Someone wanted to order 10,000 tanks for class-A trucks,” he told TBJ.
It probably didn’t hurt that Villarreal and his cohorts were recently featured by CNBC as one of “the most promising new companies” in the U.S.
This was on top of being named among the 50 most innovative startup companies in the world by Global Entrepreneurship Week. They beat out almost 400 other applicants from 17 different countries for the distinction.
Their product takes advantage of the growing interest in compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel source. With the demand for cleaner-burning energy sources, low prices due to the ongoing glut in the natural gas market, as well as efforts by Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature to promote it in-state and nationwide for fleets, there is a growing demand for CNG-powered vehicles.
CNG has to be highly-pressurized to work as a vehicle fuel, though, which normally requires a heavier, bulkier storage tank than with gasoline, which limits the range and mileage of CNG-powered vehicles. This limitation, in turn, has been an obstacle to the development of CNG as an alternative fuel.
“Our innovative design is a huge step forward in overcoming these challenges,” said Villarreal.
Their fuel tank helps to resolve this difficulty because it’s about half the weight and has about 30 percent more storage capacity than comparably-sized CNG tanks currently on the market.
The MagmaCel tank is made of lightweight basalt fiber and a patented resin. Basalt—or lava rock, as it’s also known (hence the name of the tank)—has properties similar to carbon fiber, but it’s cheaper to make.
Villarreal came up with the idea when he was studying at Oklahoma State University and had entered the Formula SAE contest, in which students design, build, and compete with their own Formula One racecar.
He said they converted theirs to run on CNG so it would stand out and attract funding.
“The tank was big and bulky and heavy, and that’s what holds people back,” said Villarreal.
So, he began researching alternative materials, and found that basalt fiber would meet his needs.
He and his colleagues started CleanNG in Stillwater and moved to Tulsa earlier this year to be closer to its research partner, OSU-Tulsa’s Helmerich Advanced Technology Research Center.
The tank is still technically in the development phase, with federal safety testing expected to be complete by the end of the year. After that, Villarreal said they’ll start filling orders.
But, their current production capacity is well below what they would need to come anywhere close to meeting current demand.
They’re currently outsourcing manufacture of the tank to a company in Alabama until they can raise $350,000 to buy their own filament winding machine, at which point they’ll manufacture the tank in Tulsa.