Boston Globe: GEO2 profiled

A good coverage for us in The Boston Globe. Wish Rob and I smiled a bit in the photo 🙂

Woburn firm’s goal? World domination

Small company’s filter cleans up diesel exhaust

By Davis Bushnell

Globe Correspondent / December 13, 2007 WOBURN – GEO2 Technologies of Woburn is a small, fledgling company with big ambitions: to have its patented filter for making diesel engines cleaner and more fuel-efficient become the standard for excellence worldwide.

To do that, the privately held company must license its technology or be acquired by a global corporation, said chief executive Rob Lachenauer, 46, who founded the firm 3 1/2 years ago with Bilal Zuberi, 31, now vice president-product development.

Previously, both worked for the Boston Consulting Group; Lachenauer as a partner, Zuberi as a consultant. The company’s first office was in Lachenauer’s Weston garage. It moved into 5,000-square-foot quarters in Woburn, off Cabot Road, in January 2005. There also is a small facility in Wilmington for diesel engine and component testing. GE02 has 25 employees.

“We’re now deep into negotiations with potential partners,” Lachenauer said in an interview last week, declining to be specific for competitive reasons. “In six months, we expect to have something.”

The challenge will be “to sort out various options and then make the right choice,” said Jim Bartlett, a Cleveland venture capitalist who is a GEO2 investor and board member.

So far, between $20 million and $25 million has been raised from individuals and a Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture firm, Firelake Capital Management, Lachenauer said. Corning Inc., the US-based specialty glass and ceramic manufacturer, and two Japanese companies control 90 percent of the particulate filter market internationally, Lachenauer said.

“All of them, as well as others, are aware” of GEO2’s product development work, he added.

The company’s particulate filter is 5.66 inches in diameter and 6 inches long, and consists of “high-temperature, ceramic microfibers,” said Zuberi, a Pakistan native who has a doctoral degree in physical chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Laboratory tests have revealed the filter can remove 99 percent of particulates, or soot, in diesel engines, according to Zuberi and Lachenauer. “It is lighter, stronger, and has a lower impact on fuel economy, thereby yielding better vehicle performance than other comparable filters,” Lachenauer said.

Prototypes of the device are made at the Woburn facility. Full-scale production will begin as soon as GEO2 has a manufacturing partner, which could occur next year, Zuberi said. A filter for light-duty vehicles is expected to cost $60 to $100, and a filter for heavy-duty vehicles from $200 to $500, he added.

The product, Lachenauer pointed out, has evolved from the research two Californians, Gordon Alward and Bob Dichiarra, did “on filtering chimneys in Aspen, Colo.”

The two retained Boston Consulting Group in early 2004 to advise them on the possibilities for getting a permanent patent on a product that undoubtedly would have commercial value. “We saw the potential for a very good business,” with a new focus – diesel engine applications, Lachenauer said. “Clearly, the clean diesel market would grow like gangbusters.”

Zuberi, a Cambridge resident, added, “We knew we had to start a company.” This was before, he noted, “the clean [environmental] movement” began in earnest.

(For assigning their patent to GEO2, Alward and Dichiarra received equity shares in GEO2. Alward has since sold his shares, while Dichiarra remains a shareholder, Lachenauer said.)

The company name, with the “O” denoting the globe, was chosen to “reflect an environmental focus,” Lachenauer said. But the name prompted a humorous moment, he recalled, when a Japanese executive “asked whether we were a General Electric division.”

As it refines the next-generation, diesel-particulate filter, GEO2 is strongly backing a bill before the Legislature that would require all diesel fleets owned by the state or hired on a contractual basis to be retrofitted with particulate filters by 2010. If passed, the bill would give a big boost to the technology that GEO2 is embracing, Lachenauer and Zuberi said.

Meantime, the company has applied the filter, albeit smaller, to a leaf blower. And in looking to the future, there are many more possible applications in the chemical engineering and bioengineering fields, for example, Zuberi said.

Bill Carty, a professor of ceramic engineering at Alfred University in New York, who has also been a consultant to GEO2, said the filter “has the potential for being used widely. For instance, look at the widespread use of scooters – and they put out a lot of soot – in developing nations. Those countries are desperate for a manageable solution” to improving air quality.

“The urgency of market needs” prompted the formation of GEO2, said Bartlett, the company investor and board member. “Ten years ago, companies weren’t focused on exhaust systems and their effects on global warming. Now they are – particularly in Europe, which is ahead of the US in mitigating vehicle pollution – and GEO2 is playing into that scenario.”


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