By Brittany Moseley | Jan. 27, 2016
What started as a high school science fair project has led to a spot on Forbes’ ’30 Under 30’ list for Felipe Gomez del Campo. The senior aerospace and mechanical engineering major is featured in the “energy” category for the work his company FGC Plasma Solutions is doing in regards to developing a better fuel injector for jet engines.
“I was pretty excited. The list came out at 10 a.m., but I had practice from 10-12, so I was in the water during that time, and it was pretty hard to concentrate,” said Gomez del Campo, who is on the university’s men’s swim team. “I've put a lot of hard work into this so it’s great to get some validation.”
Gomez del Campo founded FGC Plasma Solutions in 2013, but the company’s origins go back even further. “It all started my junior year of high school when I really needed a science fair project,” he explained. “I had read some papers on how flames and really strong electric fields interact. This phenomenon has been studied pretty extensively, so I decided to see if I could replicate it. I ended up seeing that plasma—basically a spark which is formed when an electric field in a glass is strong enough to make it conductive so it's like a lightning bolt—could have a very beneficial effect on combustion.
“From this the project developed into, ‘Okay, so we can make flames more stable. Who cares? What can we use this for?’” he continued, “which led me to look at this to improve combustion in jet engines, my science fair [project] for my senior year. Once I got to Case, it turned into a question of, ‘This works, but what is the best way to apply plasma to jet engines?’ That turned into modifying the fuel injector, which is what the past three-and-a-half years have been devoted to.”
Last spring Gomez del Campo was recognized by President Obama at an event at the White House honoring young entrepreneurs from around the world. It also allowed him to bring FGC Plasma to a larger audience. As part of the event, Gomez del Campo pitched his startup to investors from the ABC television show “Shark Tank.”
“That was probably one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” Gomez del Campo said. “I was pretty nervous, and looking back at the video, I had no idea I could talk that fast.”
After he graduates this spring, Gomez del Campo plans to attend graduate school and continue his work with FGC Plasma Solutions. “As you can imagine, there's a lot of work and testing that needs to go into developing a technology which is critical to the safe operation of an aircraft,” he said. “Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we are focused on increasingly complicated and realistic tests to simulate the conditions inside of a jet engine and make sure we optimize the performance of the technology. Part of this work is taking place at NASA Glenn Research Center. The goal is for these tests to de-risk the technology to the point where we can convince an engine manufacturer, like GE, to partner with us to develop the technology as a solution for their engines.”
Another of Gomez del Campo’s long-term goals is to enhance opportunities for entrepreneurs in his home country of Mexico. (He and his family moved from Mexico City to Weston, Florida, when he was six. He became a U.S. citizen in 2014.) “While there is already a vibrant start-up scene in Mexico—maybe one of the best in Latin America—there is a lot of room for growth,” he explained. “I have had a lot of the resources needed to start a business/develop a technology here at Case and in the U.S. in general. It’s a long road toward launching a business, with some very large potholes scattered everywhere. It is the role of an entrepreneurship ecosystem to help fill in these traps and allow businesses to launch successfully. I think it’s critical to develop this around the world because no one has a monopoly on good ideas, so we need to make sure that wherever a good idea arises, there exist the mechanisms necessary to support entrepreneurs in developing them and bringing them to fruition.”