Medina native’s renewable energy company finalist for $1 million award in NY contest
Colin Huwyler was already interested in the development of clean energy while he was in Medina High School.
Since graduating in 2002, Huwyler has not only made a name for himself in the field of biodiesel technology and development of clean energy, he has become a leader in the field.
Huwyler, 34, a son of Bobbi Huwyler of Medina and Monte Huwyler, is founder of Optimus Technologies in Pittsburgh, the market leader in development of biodiesel conversion systems for medium and heavy duty trucks.
Huwyler recently returned from Binghamton University, where it was announced his company is one of 19 semifinalists in a $2.5 million competition sponsored by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
When Huywler first began researching on the internet, he discovered that the original diesel engine was designed to operate on peanut oil to enable farmers to be self-sufficient. The engines were modified when petroleum oil was discovered, and the technology evolved from there, he said.
After graduation from Medina High School, he entered the University of Buffalo to study political science. He needed a car which was economical to drive back and forth, he said. New York state had then outlawed the purchase of diesel passenger vehicles, so Huwyler went to Toronto and purchased his first car – a diesel Volkswagen Jetta.
He found a kit online to convert the car to burning used cooking oil and restaurant grease. A neighbor helped him install it in his Jetta.
“We put five gallons of soybean oil in it, and it ran,” Huwyler said.
Some things about the design of the conversion kit were not convenient, so Huwyler started tweaking them.
“It got to the point where the kit had more of my tweaks than the original parts,” he said.
In 2005, Huwyler started his first company, Fossil Free Fuel. He was selling his kits when a customer in Eastern Pennsylvania needed help installing one, and Huwyler went to assist him.
That was near Allentown, and when Huwyler was looking for a place to grow his company, Pennsylvania was a natural choice.
“That’s where the interest was in sustainable and clean technology,” he said.
Huwyler moved to Pittsburgh, where he entered the University of Pittsburgh and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering.
His company today is located in the Pittsburgh suburb of Braddock, where he said the mayor was very helpful when he was setting up his business.
They had been building systems for cars when several companies began asking if Huwyler could do the same for their large distribution trucks and heavy equipment.
“That compelled me to start Optimus Technologies,” Huwyler said. “Our technology is now being used on garbage trucks in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. A number of new entities are going to install it this fall.”
Optimus Technologies currently has three employees, and plans to hire another three by the end of the year.
“If we win this contest, we’ll be hiring a lot more,” Huwyler said.
NYSERDA’s 76West Clean Energy Competition is one of the largest in the country which focuses on supporting entrepreneurs to build clean energy businesses and economic development. It supports New York’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050, Huwyler said.
The competition attracted proposals from 169 companies from 14 countries.
“All had really interesting technologies,” Huwyer said. “But we feel really good about our chances. Our technology can meet the goals New York state has set, and we have proven it already.”
Huwyler has four patents on his technology, with several more pending.
Winner of the 76West Clean Energy Competition will receive $1 million. The second place finisher will receive $500,000 and four third-place winners will each get $250,000. Winners will be announced in the fall.
“If we win, the money will help grow our company,” Huwyler said. “The focus would be on hiring, growing technology and setting up a company in the Southern Tier of New York state.”
One of the requirements of the competition is the winner must set up or do business in the Southern Tier.
Other finalists include Clean Fiber of Buffalo and Paradigm of New York in Rochester.