“You’re either going to be written off as a crackpot or a genius,” laughed Kevin Kenney of Grassroots Energy, a compressed natural gas (CNG) think tank in Nebraska.
He’s talking about the plight of inventors who come before their time. Kenney invented a highly-efficient CNG/diesel dual-fuel conversion process for existing diesel engines and a dispensing compressor that attaches to any natural gas meter. He says it has been a long road to credibility, through years of development, relationship-building, and sometimes push-back from other experts in engine design and marketing.
Kenney’s alternative-energy journey began in 1995, when his father became ill and Kenney left his position as a Farmland Industries fossil fuels rep to return to the family farm. With a degree in agricultural engineering, it wasn’t surprising when he began tinkering with engines during the winter months. He converted a Chevy Van to 100 percent ethanol and ultimately designed a CNG system that allows a diesel truck to travel as far as 100 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel.
Kenney talked with everyone he knew about his work and the need for the United States to use cleaner, more efficient domestic fuels. Most brushed him off, although it was difficult to argue with the results. In 2010, he caught the attention of Mark Stehly of Burlington Northern Railroad, who sanctioned an engine trial at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
“The test elevated me from a hot-rodder to a high-octane fuel-induction designer,” Kenney said. Since then, he has converted many engines and kept the dialogue open with anyone he thinks could help the cause. In 2013, Frontier Co-op in David City, Neb., partnered with him to convert its trucks. Kenney recently was named chief engineer for Three Rivers Energy, an alt-energy provider in Nebraska. The company leases Kenney’s CNG equipment to consumers and makes engine conversions.
Kenney calls his work “an end run” around large fuel companies he says are moving too slowly. “We need big corporations to take alternative fuel technologies to the masses, but sometimes they want to control too much,” Kenney saidd. “The rest of the world is running CNG vehicles daily, and we should have that option now.”
Thanks to Kenney’s stealthy success, more people know about the CNG alternative, and some already are saving money and protecting the environment right this minute.