ENRG Power Systems Is Ready for Liftoff

[Corrected 5/29/12, 7:30 p.m. See below.] Milton Roye has spent most of his life working for a series of automakers and suppliers: General Motors, Delphi, Tata. It was in this capacity as a seasoned industry expert that an old classmate from MIT approached him about some new technology he’d been working on. It was a new ignition system, the friend said, with the potential to raise fuel economy while lowering greenhouse emissions. “I started looking into it and it seemed like the real deal,” Roye says.

In 2009, Roye decided to quit the auto industry and launch a company called ENRG Power Systems around his former classmate’s plasma ignition technology. Since then, the company has been gathering steady momentum on Michigan’s startup scene, becoming the only two-time winner of the Accelerate Michigan competition and finding support at the state level (with TechTown) and in the West Michigan community, where ENRG Power has just opened an office. “It took the country realizing we had reached a tipping point,” Roye explains. “Our product is something socially worth pursuing and financially viable.”

ENRG Power’s technology hinges on plasma, which contains a wealth of electrically charged particles. When used as part of a vehicle’s ignition system, it changes the fuel-combustion mechanism to generate bursts of energy, sending a positive charge to the mixture of fuel and air in the engine cylinders and igniting it. The resulting “flame cloud” leads to significant improvements in fuel efficiency, Roye says—up t0 21 percent more efficiency and a reduction of up to 55 percent in greenhouse gases. Roye also notes that a typical spark ignition takes 50 milliseconds to fire up, while the plasma ignition takes 2.3 nanoseconds. “It’s more efficient for gasoline, E85, propane … it really is the ignition system of the future,” he says.

Roye says the company is focusing first on V-8 engines because that’s where the biggest demand is. “Vans and trucks are our market,” he says. “They’re everywhere. There are close to six million vans and trucks in the U.S. commercial fleet alone.” Right now, the company is working on getting customers before it goes all in on fundraising. ENRG Power allows customers to have a 90-day free trial of its product. While the technologies underlying his automotive system have been used by the U.S. Air Force and in oil field industrial applications for years, the product has now been adapted for automotive use and the company has two trials underway with its target fleet customers. [An earlier version of this paragraph mistakenly implied that ENRG Power’s products were being used in trials by the U.S. Airforce and in oil fields. We regret the error.]

Roye says one of the happiest surprises occurred when he shifted operations to Grand Rapids, MI, after his wife got a new job on the west side of the state. Though ENRG Power also has an office in Detroit, and Roye says Southeast Michigan was an “invaluable” place to launch a company, ENRG Power was in a bit of a rut there. “The commercialization wasn’t going anywhere,” he says. “There are too many out-of-work former auto people with great ideas. But West Michigan is all about sustainability. People are more willing to help with business development.”

It wasn’t what Roye was expecting, but now he calls it the best thing that could have happened. “I’ll come back to Southeast Michigan for our second wave of customers, but the early adopters are all turning out to be here on the west side,” he says.

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