Issue: Mar 2010

AI interviews Werner Funk, president and chief executive officer of Omnitek Engineering Corporation

by Jon Knox

Early this year, Omnitek Engineering Corporation received international certification for its high-pressure natural gas filter by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – the UN-ECE-110R. This certification is expected to help the company expand its market internationally with a number of light and heavy vehicle manufacturers opting for the filter. Already, Indian OEM, Tata Motors, is a customer for the compressed natural gas filter as an original equipment part.

“The filter is a critical component of a compressed natural gas system, providing protection from solid particulate matter and oil aerosols which can damage fuel injections, carburetors and regulators. In addition to Tata, numerous OEM customers report superior performance from Omnitek’s multi-layer filter element over competing brands and we look forward to expanding our customer base with this international certification,” said Werner Funk, president and chief executive officer of Omnitek Engineering Corporation.

The company says that across the world, there are 11 million light and heavy duty vehicles that run on compressed natural gas or CNG, with one million being added to this number annually. Omnitek Engineering develops and sells new natural gas engines, as well as a proprietary technology to convert diesel engines to natural gas. “This system has established Omnitek as a leader in the industry. Omnitek offers a total-system approach and is dedicated to supplying alternative energy and emissions control solutions that are sustainable, affordable and contribute to combat global warming,” says the company.

According to Omnitek, many developing nations who have readily available natural gas from indigenous sources are increasingly shifting to CNG. Omnitek has developed a system to convert any existing diesel engine to a clean-burning natural gas engine at a fraction of the cost of a new engine and estimates the population of diesel engines around the world, which can be converted using the Omnitek Diesel-to-Natural Gas Conversion System and offer the best ROI, approaching ten million engines. Prevailing economic factors, rising oil prices and the real thread of global warming, make abundantly available and inexpensive natural gas the fuel for the future and Omnitek's total-system approach results in cost-effective solutions that offer the greatest potential for improvements in engine efficiency and exhaust emissions.

Omnitek says that its proprietary technology overcomes past problems of unreliability and poor performance found in first-generation gas engine technology. The company’s conversion kits are aimed at diesel engines of any size and are built for engines without turbochargers that use simple reducer/mixer systems. Or at engines with turbochargers that need to use electronic fuel injection systems. The cost to convert an engine with the Omnitek technology costs anywhere from USD 7000 to USD 10,000, plus the cost of the gas storage tanks.

Omnitek evaluates each project before converting engines from diesel to CNG. The factors taken into consideration include the cost factor, quality of the natural gas available, availability of infrastructure and numerous other factors. Omnitek offers its expertise to customers to help tackle all these issues. “Every country faces unique problems. Not only is the level of pollution a driving factor when recommending a solution for successful emissions reduction, but one must also take traffic patterns, level of difficulty in technology implementation, local customs and the cost-impact of implementing the technology into consideration when proposing successful solutions. Omnitek is proposing technology solutions based on a Cost-to-Benefit Ratio.

Even as some experts suggest that with current technologies one could easily ‘leapfrog’ one emissions standard i.e. go from EURO II directly to EURO IV bypassing EURO III, Omnitek believes that in most instances this is technologically very challenging and financially not feasible outside the most affluent countries.

Every successful solution to reducing the air pollution in urban areas incorporates a multi-step approach,” says Omnitek.

Automotive Industries spoke to Werner Funk, president and chief executive officer of Omnitek Engineering Corporation.

AI: Omnitek focuses on converting or re-powering existing diesel engines to work on CNG. What are your general criteria for taking on the repowering of an engine versus declining to do the conversion?

WF: We go through a checklist which includes following: driving range – is there space for CNG tanks? What is the power needed - CNG may has 5% to 10% lower power than diesel. We check to see if this is a problem. The condition of the engine is checked and we either convert the engine or sell the customer a new natural gas engine. Omnitek offers 3 versions of natural gas engines 200hp, 240hp and 280hp.

We check whether the engine can be converted - some engines are VERY difficult and expensive to convert. We are picky since there are so many diesel engines out there looking to be converted to natural gas.

AI: Do you do many re-powering jobs on relatively new diesel engines? If so, how will you deal with the latest diesel engine developments such as on-board-diagnostics or the addition of emissions control systems such as selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems?

WF: Most engines are over 5 years old. Customers wait out the warranty period when they own the vehicle. We have never had an instance where the owner wanted to convert a financed vehicle.

Our system is OE quality and we offer our own on-board-diagnostics. Our system is communicating over the CANbus and can control all CAN functions such as automatic transmission, electronic dashboard, cruise control, etc. We would remove the SCR system, since this Nox contolling technology is not needed with natural gas and 3-way catalytic converter.

AI: Have you done any re-powering of marine engines, even for small boats or commercial ships?

WF: We have converted only a few marine engines for demonstration purpose. It sounds like a great way to go, considering all the fuel savings you would get with natural gas, but there are limitations on range and also the availability of refueling infrastructure is a challenge.

AI: Omnitek is operating in some countries that are experiencing strong NGV growth. Which countries, in your view, are the principal growth markets for NGVs and for Omnitek?

WF: The largest amount of vehicles we have converted are located in Southeast Asia. Now it looks like our business will shift to South America and Eastern Europe. We are also seeing great progress here in the USA, where we have started several projects in the last 3 months.

AI: Do customers in any of the countries you do business receive government incentives for the conversion to CNG?

WF: Most of the natural gas conversions in the USA are in one form or another supported by government incentives. In other countries incentives take many forms – usually as low or no interest loans and fuel subsidies.

AI: Many of the strongest growth markets also are highly price sensitive. How is this affecting the degree to which Omnitek can do a relatively complicated and expensive engine conversion (repowering)?

WF: We perform conversions in Myanmar, Thailand, Peru, USA and Europe so price is not always the most important factor. I think reliability and fuel savings are much more important. If a customer looks at the lowest initial cost solution only, without considering reliability, service support and low fuel use, he is missing the big picture. We make the customers understand that it is not the initial conversion cost that is important, but the return on investment (ROI). Most often, our customers can recover the conversion cost in less than 1.5 years and sometimes in less then 10 months, especially in countries where the natural gas cost is 60 to 70% less than diesel.

AI: Dual fuel systems, whereby a varying combination of natural gas is used simultaneously with diesel (as a pilot ignition source) are becoming more popular since these conversions can be 're-converted' back to diesel for possible sale into the second hand market. Has Omnitek had much experience with dual fuel natural gas/diesel engines? If not, is it something you might consider to help expand your market penetration?

WF: Based on the limited success of such technology for on-road applications, we have made a conscious decision not to offer this technology. I think this technology has a place in power generation and marine applications, but not on-road, especially in countries where strict emission limits are in place.

AI: How would you describe the activities developed by Omnitek Engineering?

WF: Our main focus is on diesel-to-natural gas conversions of new and in-use diesel trucks and buses (medium and heavy-duty engines). We understand that many diesel vehicles are relatively new, or still have many years of service left in them, so we do not expect that fleet owners will buy new natural gas trucks and buses, just to use natural gas as a fuel. Especially if converting diesel engines to natural gas is such a relatively economical solution. We offer fleet owners the option to convert their existing diesel vehicles to natural gas. Under this option, the savings from using less expensive natural gas over diesel will generally pay for the conversion in 8 to 18 months. Omnitek has already sold more than 4000 diesel-to-natural gas conversion kits and has customers in 12 countries. Omnitek also offers new NG engines, which can be used to re-power diesel trucks and buses with natural gas engines, or to manufacture natural gas power generators.

AI: What are your latest products to be launched in the market for gas vehicles?

WF: Last year we introduced our diesel-to-natural gas conversion system for V8 and V16 engines. We can now cover every engine from 1 cylinder to 16 cylinders. This includes trucks, buses, irrigation pumps, generators and boats. We also introduced a low-pressure system, which can be used to convert diesel power generators and allows you to have the engine connected straight to a low-pressure gas line and no high-pressure CNG storage tanks are needed. When converting a generator to natural gas the conversion cost can be recovered in 4 to 6 months.

The newest products are service items. Last year, we added a special 12mm long-life natural gas spark plug to our lineup of long-life 14mm natural gas spark plugs we have been selling for many years now. Another new product is a special CNG motor oil. Over the years we have seen many premature engine failures because the wrong lubricating oil was used. We found that after converting the diesel engine to natural gas, many continued to use the same diesel motor oil they always used. This shortens the engine life substantially. Natural gas engines need a different engine oil formulation than diesel engines.

AI: How do you assess the growth of natural gas vehicles in your country? Do you think it is the right time for NGVs in the United States?

WF: I think the time is right for natural gas passenger vehicles, especially if home-refueling is also offered. In the USA we have such a great infrastructure, natural gas is supplied to almost every home. As far as Omnitek’s business is concerned, we still have a lot of work to do to convince the United States EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that old diesel engines converted to natural gas can be a low-polluting engine with high reliability. We have demonstrated that we can achieve EURO 6 and US EPA 2010 On-Road standards.

In the mean time, we continue to focus on overseas markets where the energy savings aspect of converting a diesel to natural gas is welcome and emissions regulations less bureaucratic, especially in today’s economic climate.

AI: What should be the next step of technology applied to gas-powered engines in order to assure its massive use at worldwide level? And what should happen with the emissions control technologies?

WF: For the natural gas passenger car population to increase quickly and substantially, more fueling infrastructure and gas price stability is needed. A high crude oil price will also help, but only if the price of natural gas always maintains a significant advantage over gasoline or diesel. I think there are not enough OE suppliers offering a diverse product mix of new natural gas engines to really have a substantial impact on the heavy-duty natural gas vehicle population over the next 3 or 4 years. Also, we cannot convert diesel engines to natural gas quick enough to really have a big impact on the number of vehicles on the roads.

As emission levels are getting lower and lower, new and expensive technologies have to be employed to reach these levels. Two Omnitek-equipped engines have recently achieved US-2010 and EURO6 emission levels without the use of EGR. This is about the lowest emission level possible with today’s technology. To go even cleaner advanced and possibly not-yet-invented technologies are needed. Some of these technologies may include cam-less valve train technology, ceramic engine parts, after-treatment systems, ultra-lean burn technology and laser ignition, just to name a few.

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I would like to know the efficiency of CNG engines, i.e., miles per gallon, roughly, to decide whether to install such an engine in a RV. Also, would the CNG be able to be used for the appliances in an RV? I am looking for approximate miles to be driven to achieve a reasonable ROI.
Charles H. Miller , Albuquerque, NM USA

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