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Bend Natural Gas Vehicle Technology Startup Secures $3M with Help from Oregon BEST, ONAMI

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

PORTLAND, Ore. ­ Two of Oregon¹s signature research centers, Oregon BEST and ONAMI, today announced $400,000 in commercialization funding for Bend, Ore.-based startup Onboard Dynamics, Inc. The funding secures a $3-million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy¹s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which invested an initial $1 million in the project two years ago.

The funding will speed commercialization of an on-vehicle natural gas compression technology that enables fueling of compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles anywhere a low-pressure natural gas service line is available.

The technology, being developed by Oregon State University researchers and Onboard Dynamics, uses an existing engine piston and cylinder as the onboard compressor and could reduce fuel costs to as little as $1/gallon gasoline equivalent. This is a significant savings over the $2.30-plus/gallon gasoline equivalent price of natural gas purchased at public CNG filling stations. Only 800+ public CNG stations currently operate in the U.S. The technology could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to studies by the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Onboard Dynamics was spun out from research developed at Oregon State University’s Cascades Campus in Bend, where Chris Hagen, an OSU assistant professor in the Energy Systems Engineering Program, and his students have developed a working prototype of the in-engine compression technology. ARPA-E invested $1 million in Hagen’s early research back in 2012, and the agency has just committed an additional $3 million to help Hagen and his team continue advancing their innovative technology

“ARPA-E would not be funding this project at this level if they didn’t believe this technology could have a significant impact on our nation¹s energy future,” said Rita Hansen, CEO of Onboard Dynamics. “ARPA-E, Oregon BEST, ONAMI and Oregon State University have all really stepped up and delivered, and their support has been critical.”

Oregon BEST will invest $150,000 and ONAMI will invest up to $250,000, with the funding tranched in concert with ARPA-E milestones. This marks the first time ONAMI and Oregon BEST have simultaneously funded a project at this level. In addition, Oregon State University will waive its indirect costs related to these two grants (a value of approximately $91,000).

Onboard Dynamics will use the new funding for additional product engineering and testing in a real-world environment. The company’s initial target market is commercial vehicle fleets. It is working with the Deschutes County Road Dept. in Bend to help implement and test the technology.

“This is a terrific example of three different Oregon entities coming together to leverage significant federal funding to help an Oregon startup speed a new clean technology to market,” said Ken Vaughn, Director of Commercialization at Oregon BEST. “It’s been wonderful collaborating with ONAMI and OSU to arrive at such a positive outcome, and one that could mean more jobs for Oregonians.”

Oregon BEST has been working with the company and Hagen (Onboard Dynamic’s chief technical officer) for more than a year because of the company’s focus on commercializing clean technology, Oregon BEST’s mission. The project taps ONAMI’s expertise in microchannel heat exchange technology, which is used to reduce the heat generated by the compression process within the piston cylinder.

We saw an enabling compression technology that could be enhanced by the advanced heat exchange techniques we¹ve been involved with at the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute for many years,” said Skip Rung, President of ONAMI. Together with an outstanding short-term leverage opportunity, this is an excellent chance for a company in one of rural Oregon¹s most innovative communities to grab a share of the expected massive CNG vehicle market.”

The news was announced at Oregon BEST FEST, an annual two-day cleantech innovation conference hosted by Oregon BEST. ARPA-E Acting Director Cheryl Martin keynoted the event, referencing Onboard Dynamic¹s notable technical progress to date and applauds the support of the energy ecosystem in Oregon.

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