This is the third of 10 profiles provided by the North Carolina Technology Association highlighting its newest Beacon Award category, Ten Startups to Watch. The companies will be recognized during the organization’s November 6th NC Technology Awards Gala.
By Ann Revell-Pechar
Blue Gas Marine, Inc. has found a cleaner and more affordable way to power boats: natural gas.
The Apex-based company makes natural gas hybrid fuel systems that can be installed on existing gasoline and diesel engines, and then, just like HP does with ink, it’ll sell you that gas.
Aptly-named Blue Gas Marine is the first company of its kind in the United States, and therefore has that first-mover advantage. But it’s not just about positioning—this company actually found that perfect silver bullet, offering a cleaner environment while saving boaters actual cash.
“I started Blue Gas Marine because I love to boat and fish and wanted to make it greener and more affordable to do what I love,” says CEO and former NASA engineer Miguel Guerreiro, who debuts the technology at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this weekend. “Seeing the company come together and the support we get for our product makes all the long hours put into it, worth it.”
A Saver: Of Money and the Environment
Installed on existing or new outboard, inboard and generator engines, the system uses compressed (CNG) or liquefied (LNG) natural gas. The system can reduce fuel costs (by nearly 50%) and maintenance costs while make boating greener—in fact, the company claims that this switch can reduce boaters’ pollution by 70 to 90 percent. “Having zero-exhaust smoke and zero-exhaust odor is a big deal when you are around boats,” says Guerreiro. “Exhaust is unhealthy and unpleasant and, of course, a common pollution factor.”
The company markets its systems and fuel to frequent boat operators, such as commercial fishermen, charter boats, ferries, tugs, large ships, the military and recreational users. As expected, the greatest response is to the savings. A 32’ boat can cost more than $1350 to fill up with gasoline in the U.S., but only $625 when natural gas is used.
Location, Location, Location
Being in the Triangle has been ideal for a technology-driven company that solves a fuel problem for boaters. Blue Gas Marine is located in Apex, with easy access to a variety of natural gas pumps in Raleigh and Durham. PSNC will soon open a compressed natural gas pump next to its facility. It’s close to Jordan Lake, where Blue Gas takes boats for testing the technology.
Camaraderie and support are also ample. Guerreiro credits not just the supportive environment of the companies in its industrial park, but also other Triangle resources like the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED).
“North Carolina has great people not only for business mentors, but also for investors and for employees,” says Guerreiro. “There are so many great local universities that there is a great pool of talent in this area to pull from for all aspects of the business. It also helps that we have the 4th largest boat ownership and boating expenditures in the country. Our coastline is a great active market for our product and fuel. It’s great to be a North Carolina employer.”
The firm was also part of the Clean Tech Open national accelerator program, which offered mentors, tools and other resources from around the nation.
But the support received from family and the blood, sweat and tears contributed by the staff is, according to Guerreiro, the real support source.
Guerreiro also credits investors (who provided $500K in 2012) for some of his success.
“We have relied on angel investors and have truly great individuals who understand our mission and understand the impact this will have in the boating world. We’re extremely thankful for each person who has joined our investor family.”
Blue Sky/Blue Water Future
The company expects fast growth—within a year, it will have many Blue Gas Marine certified marine service centers and marina partners distributing fuel and installing the Blue Gas natural gas hybrid power on boats nationwide.
Two international locations are actively pursuing the technology for their markets. They already have the natural gas distribution and are ready to start using natural gas for boats as soon as the technology can be deployed.
Blue Gas’s goal is to see additional boat manufacturers offer direct-from-factory Blue Gas Marine systems for their customers. It has already partnered with Intrepid Powerboats, a company known for innovation and industry-leading yacht design, to develop a factory-ready boat with the system showcasing how Blue Gas Marine deploys its system on-board boats.
It will debut at the boat show this weekend, along with a fuel station on site to demonstrate how easily boaters can fill-up on the new fuel.
The Entrepreneur’s Challenge
Not surprisingly, Blue Gas Marine sees the same challenges many start-ups do: access to cash, identifying the right partners, access to great employees, and of course—the need for more hours in the day. “I easily spend 16 hours a day at Blue Gas Marine and while I sleep, I still dream about it,” says Guerreiro.
The company has worked through most of these challenges, and has altered course at times, but with the big launch at the boat show, it’s on the way. If anyone knows of great team members, however, it’s hiring for just about every position in the company.