The launch of InsightFuel is an attempt by Jeff King to drive the cost premium out of clean fuel technology and make it a more attractive option for consumers.
“Companies have focused on reducing cost on the vehicle side or on the station side, but not on both at the same time,” says King, an alternative fuel industry veteran and former CEO at Twinsburg-based SSP Corp.
“Now we have an opportunity to focus on the entire proposition for let’s say a small fleet operator with a fleet of 20 ambulances or delivery trucks. They run on gas and the furthest thing from the owner’s mind is converting the fleet to an alternative fuel or how much that would cost.”
If all goes according to plan, InsightFuel will make such a transition an idea worth considering.
“Our long-term vision is to figure out a way to approach fleet owners with an economic model that would be very advantageous to do from a payback standpoint and then be able to bring the solution to his or her fleet with minimal disruption,” King says. “It’s about helping to paint the picture and connect those dots for all the people who are servicing our markets and helping our customers as they are today.”
Over the last six years, King had developed new strategies for SSP in the alternative fuel industry. He co-founded AFV Natural Gas Fuel Systems in 2009 and has now merged AFV with CNG Plus, a construction services business that helps contractors build compressed natural gas (CNG) stations.
The new company, InsightFuel, is working to bring turnkey solutions to smaller light- and medium-duty fleet operators and reduce the cost and complexity of fleet conversion and clean energy fueling.
“We now have significant plays on both the vehicle and infrastructure or station side of the industry,” King says.
King’s experience in green technology ventures date back to his graduate studies at Indiana University. He had been in the aerospace industry and lived in Arizona, where he saw 28,000 homes a year being built in and around Phoenix.
“It’s in the middle of the desert and you need water to sustainably build homes,” King says. “So I came up with an idea of reusing residential gray water – water from laundry and showers. That’s about 60 percent of the water that a home generates.
“We could reprocess this water through ozination and mechanical straining in an appliance-sized device that is built into the house like an oversized water heater. The homeowner can capture the gray water and reuse it for landscape irrigation.”
Some of the lessons King learned from that experience back in 1996 are now being applied to the evolution of InsightFuel.
“As we sit here in the clean fuel transportation space, there are some things working against the adoption of renewable or clean fuels as a transportation fuel, including the competing alternative – the price of gas and diesel,” King says.
“A lot of people need to see an economic justification and the shorter the better in terms of the payback. When the conventional alternative price differential narrowed, like it did with the collapse of the oil prices, the incentive to consider a different fuel source diminishes in a lot of customers’ minds.”
As he works to change the way motorists fuel their vehicles, King is still doing business in traditional markets.
“We continue to service the traditional station construction market and vehicle builders and outfitters,” King says. “So we’re paying today’s bills while getting positioned for our long-term vision for InsightFuel. That’s the challenge. The long-term vision, in order for us to take steps to get there, we have to go through where we already are. Where we are is the building block to where we’re going.”
Things like oil prices and politics can quickly change the alternative fuel landscape, but King and his team work hard to stay focused on their goals.
“We want to be principled in terms of following the parameters of our business plan, but we also have to be pragmatic about meeting the market where it is today and capitalizing on opportunities as they are presented,” King says.
A bright future
King believes the future is bright for his business and the alternative fuel industry. He points to Oklahoma as an example of what could be down the road.
“They have a public CNG fueling station at least every 100 miles on their interstate highway system from one side of the state to the other,” King says.
“That was a goal that the industry set under the leadership of the governor and the legislature a number of years ago. Every state is at different points in its evolution of the fueling infrastructure. It’s a natural industry for Ohio with all the gas that’s been discovered and tapped in the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale. We have a mature interstate highway system and an endless supply of the raw material.”
If King can approach fleet operators with various options for alternative fueling and the technology to quickly retrofit those fleets to use the alternative fuels, InsightFuel would grow dramatically.
“We would be in hyper-growth mode trying to figure out how to replicate this business model all across the country,” he says. ●