Through its Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), the U.S. Department of Energy launched a new $30 million program in February this year, titled Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE). Now, thirteen new “cutting-edge” research projects have been selected for funding under this program, to find new ways of harnessing America’s abundant natural gas supplies for cars and trucks and expand the use of natural gas as a vehicle fuel.
The MOVE program aims to engineer light-weight, affordable natural gas tanks for vehicles and develop natural gas compressors that can efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home.
“These innovative projects will leverage the ingenuity of U.S. scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to develop breakthrough technologies to fuel cars with natural gas,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. “These projects could transform America’s energy infrastructure and economy by utilizing domestic energy sources to power our vehicles, reducing our reliance on imported oil, and increasing American energy security.”
Today’s natural gas vehicle technologies require tanks that can withstand high pressures, are often cumbersome, and are either too large or too expensive to be suitable for smaller passenger vehicles. ARPA-E’s new projects are focused on removing these barriers, which will help encourage the widespread use of natural gas cars and trucks. For example:
- REL, Inc. in Calumet, Michigan will receive $3 million to develop an internal “foam core” for natural gas tanks that allows tanks to be formed into any shape. This will enable higher storage capacity than current carbon fiber tanks at one third the cost.
- Ford Motor Company will receive $5.5 million to engineer a high-performance natural gas storage tank that utilizes an innovative external framework and internal porous materials. This comprehensive design will lower pressure and cost while increasing the performance of the fuel system.
- Texas A&M University will receive $3 million to develop highly adsorbent materials for low-pressure natural gas storage tanks. These low cost materials enable low-pressure natural gas to efficiently adhere to their engineered porous structures, storing gas at very high energy densities.
The projects will also focus on developing natural gas compressors that make it easier for consumers to re-fuel at home. For example:
- The Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin will receive $4 million to develop an at-home natural gas re-fueling system that compresses gas with a single piston. Unlike current four piston compressors, the Center for Electromechanics – UT Austin’s highly integrated single-piston system will use fewer moving parts, leading to a more reliable, lighter, and cost-effective compressor.
The investments build on efforts underway through the Clean Cities program and National Clean Fleets Partnership to help large fleet operators in the country, such as large companies, cities, and states, identify opportunities to transition to natural gas vehicles. Many commercial fleet operators nationwide have already begun to transition long-haul trucks and other commercial vehicles to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). The advances achieved under this latest set of research and development awards will help expand the use of natural gas vehicles, so that consumers nationwide can benefit.
Shale gas production in the U.S. has more than tripled since 2008, with near 100-year supply of gas resources identified. Over the past five years, shale gas has grown from 5 percent to more than 30 percent of total domestic natural gas production. The growing industry has the potential to support more than 600,000 American jobs.
The Department of Energy sponsored early research that helped lead to this development, funding research and development jointly with industry and universities that was essential to the development of American shale gas resources.
Selected projects are located in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
(This article compiled using information from a U.S. Department of Energy press release)