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Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy

The projects that comprise ARPA-E's MOVE Program, short for "Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy," are finding cost-effective ways to power passenger cars and other light-duty vehicles with America's abundant natural gas resources. Natural gas is currently less expensive than gasoline, and produces fewer harmful emissions than any other fossil fuel. Despite these advantages, significant technological and infrastructure barriers currently limit the use of natural gas as a major fuel source in the U.S. ARPA-E's MOVE projects are finding innovative ways to break through these barriers, creating practical and affordable natural gas storage tanks for passenger cars and quick-filling at-home refueling stations.

For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

Blackpak, Inc.

Container-Less Natural Gas Storage

Blackpak will use high-strength, high-surface-area carbon to develop a sorbent-based natural gas storage vessel in which the sorbent itself is the container, eliminating the external pressure vessel altogether. This design could store natural gas at comparable or lower weight and smaller size than conventional compressed gas tanks while reducing the pressure of the natural gas in the vehicle tank. By reducing tank pressure, the system will enable home vehicle refueling at greatly reduced complexity and cost, making these systems accessible to the general public. In addition, the container-less storage system can be easily formed into a range of shapes, allowing automobile designers to seamlessly integrate the natural gas storage into the vehicle design, without sacrificing passenger space.

Eaton Corporation

Highly Efficient, Near-Isothermal Liquid-Piston Compressor for Low Cost At-Home Natural Gas Refueling

Eaton is developing an at-home natural gas refueling system that relies on a liquid piston to compress natural gas. A traditional compressor uses an electric motor to rotate a crankshaft, which is tied to several metal pistons that pump to compress gas. Traditional compressor systems can be inefficient and their complex components make them expensive to manufacture, difficult to maintain, and short-lived. Eaton's system replaces traditional pistons with a liquid that comes into direct contact with the natural gas without the need for the costly high-pressure piston seals that are used in conventional gas compression.

Ford Motor Company

Covalent and Metal-Organic Framework High-Capacity

ARPA-E and Ford agreed to mutually conclude this project. Ford is developing an on-board adsorbed natural gas tank system with a high-surface-area framework material that would increase the energy density of compressed natural gas at low pressures. Traditional natural gas tanks attempt to compensate for low-energy-density and limited driving range by storing compressed gas at high pressures, requiring expensive pressure vessels. Ford and their project partners will optimize advanced porous material within a system to reduce the pressure of on-board tanks while delivering the customer expected driving range. This porous material allows more gas to be stored inside a tank by utilizing a surface energy attraction to the natural gas. These materials would be efficiently and cost-effectively integrated into a natural gas vehicle system that will promote and contribute to the widespread use of natural gas vehicles.

Gas Technology Institute

Nano-Valved Adsorbents for CH4 Storage

GTI is developing a natural gas tank for light-duty vehicles that features a thin, tailored shell containing microscopic valves which open and close on demand to manage pressure within the tank. Traditional natural gas storage tanks are thick and heavy, which makes them expensive to manufacture. GTI's tank design uses unique adsorbent pellets with nano-scale pores surrounded by a coating that functions as valves to help manage the pressure of the gas and facilitate more efficient storage and transportation. GTI's low-pressure tanks would have thinner walls than today's best alternatives, resulting in a lighter, more affordable product with increased storage capacity.

Gas Technology Institute

Commercial Prototype Adsorbed Natural Gas (ANG) System for Light-Duty Vehicles

GTI will partner with Northwestern University, NuMat Technologies, a Northwestern start-up company, and Westport Fuel Systems to identify materials with the best characteristics for low-pressure natural gas storage. The gas-storing materials, known as metal organic framework (MOF) adsorbents, hold natural gas the way a sponge holds liquids. The project team will further develop their computer modeling and screening technique to support the creation of a low-pressure adsorbent material specifically designed for natural gas vehicles. The team will also validate the materials properties in real-world conditions. Low-pressure gas tanks represent significant potential for lowering not only the cost of NGVs, but also the cost of fueling by reducing the need to compress the gas.

General Electric

Chilled Natural Gas

GE is developing a low-cost, at-home natural gas refueling system that reduces fueling time and eliminates compression stages. Traditional compressor-based natural gas refueling systems require removal of water from natural gas through complicated desiccant cycles to avoid damage. GE's design uses a chiller to cool the gas to a temperature below -50°C, which would separate water and other contaminants from the natural gas. This design has very few moving parts, will operate quietly, and will be virtually maintenance-free. This simplified, compressor-free design could allow fast refueling at 10% of the cost of today's systems.

OnBoard Dynamics

Vehicle-Integrated Natural Gas Compressor

OnBoard Dynamics is modifying a passenger vehicle to allow its internal combustion engine to be used to compress natural gas for storage on board the vehicle. Ordinarily, filling a compressed natural gas vehicle with natural gas would involve driving to a natural gas refueling station or buying an expensive stand-alone station for home use. OnBoard's design would allow natural gas compression to take place in a single cylinder of the engine itself, allowing the actual car to behave like a natural gas refueling station. Ultimately, the engine would then have the ability both to power the vehicle and to compress natural gas so it can be stored efficiently for future use. The design would cost approximately $400 and pay for itself with fuel savings in less than 6 months.

Otherlab, Inc.

Safe, Dense, Conformal, Gas Intestine Storage

Otherlab is developing a natural gas storage tank made of small-radius, high-pressure tubes that allow for maximum conformability to vehicle shape. Current storage options are too rigid, expensive, and inefficient to support adoption of natural gas vehicles. Otherlab's space-filling tube design, modeled after human intestines, provides for maximum storage capacity. This transformational system could be constructed from low-cost materials and well suited to highly automated manufacturing processes.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Low-Cost Efficient Manufacturing of Pressurized Conformal Compressed Natural Gas Storage Tanks

PNNL is developing a low-cost, conformable natural gas tank for light-duty vehicles utilizing the same metal forming techniques used to fabricate high-strength cruise missile fins. Traditional gas tanks are made using a method known as arc welding, where an electric arc is used to melt and combine metals, which can limit their conformability. PNNL's ultra-light design relies on friction stir welding, where metal is softened-like taffy-instead of melted, which allows the metal to retain its original properties and preserves its conformability. The manufacturing process for PNNL's tanks incorporates high-strength internal strut technology that efficiently fits into a vehicle, offering a tank that costs around $1500, a substantial price reduction compared to today's best tanks.

REL, Inc.

Fully and Intricately Conformable, Single-Piece, Mass-Manufacturable High-Pressure Gas Storage Tanks

REL is developing a low-cost, conformable natural gas tank for light-duty vehicles that contains an internal structural cellular core. Traditional natural gas storage tanks are cylindrical and rigid. REL is exploring various materials that could be used to design a gas tank's internal structure that could allow the tank to be any shape. The REL team is exploring various methods of manufacturing the interconnected core structure and the tank skin to identify which combination best meets their target pressure-containment objectives. REL's conformable internal core would enable higher storage capacity than current carbon fiber-based tanks at 70% less cost. REL is developing small-scale prototypes that meet their durability, safety, and cost goals before scaling up to a full-sized prototype.

Texas A&M University

System Development for Vehicular Natural Gas Storage Using Advanced Porous Materials

Texas A&M University is developing a highly adsorbent material for use in on-board natural gas storage tanks that could drastically increase the volumetric energy density of methane, which makes up 95% of natural gas. Today's best tanks do not optimize their natural gas storage capacity and add too much to the sticker price of natural gas vehicles to make them viable options for most consumers. Texas A&M University will synthesize low-cost materials that adsorb high volumes of natural gas and increase the storage capacity of the tanks. This design could result in a natural gas storage tank that maximizes its ability to store methane and can be manufactured at low cost, side-stepping two major obstacles associated with the use of natural gas vehicles.

United Technologies Research Center

Low Cost Hybrid Materials and Manufacturing for Conformable CNG Tanks

UTRC is developing a conformable modular storage tank that could integrate easily into the tight spaces in the undercarriage of natural gas-powered vehicles. Traditional steel and carbon fiber natural gas storage tanks are rigid, bulky, and expensive, which adds to the overall cost of the vehicle and discourages broad use of natural gas vehicles. UTRC is designing modular natural gas storage units that can be assembled to form a wide range of shapes and fit a wide range of undercarriages. UTRC's modular tank could substantially improve upon the conformability level of existing technologies at a cost of approximately $1500, considerably less than today's tanks.

University of Texas, Austin

Novel Free Piston Linear Motor Compressor for Natural Gas Home Refueling Appliances

UT Austin is developing an at-home natural gas refueling system that compresses natural gas using a single piston. Typically, at-home refueling stations use reciprocating compressor technology, in which an electric motor rotates a crankshaft tied to several pistons in a multi-stage compressor. These compressor systems can be inefficient and their complex components make them expensive to manufacture, difficult to maintain, and short-lived. The UT Austin design uses a single piston compressor driven by a directly coupled linear motor. This would eliminate many of the moving components associated with typical reciprocating compressors, reducing efficiency losses from friction, increasing reliability and durability, and decreasing manufacturing and maintenance costs.

Allowing people to refuel natural gas vehicles at home could revolutionize the way we power our cars and trucks. Currently, our nation faces two challenges in enabling natural gas for transportation. The first is improving the way gas tanks are built for natural gas vehicles; they need to be conformable, allowing them to fit tightly into the vehicle. The second challenge is improving the way those tanks are refueled while maintaining cost-effectiveness, safety, and reliability. This video highlights two ARPA-E project teams with innovative solutions to these challenges. REL is addressing the first challenge by developing a low-cost, conformable natural gas tank with an interconnected core structure. Oregon State University and OnBoard Dynamics are addressing the second challenge by developing a self-refueling natural gas vehicle that integrates a compressor into its engine—using one of the engine’s cylinders to compress gas eliminates the need for an expensive at-home refueling system. These two distinct technologies from ARPA-E’s MOVE program illustrate how the Agency takes a multi-pronged approach to problem solving and innovation.

Many ARPA-E-funded universities and research institutions have created start-up companies to further catalyze their next-generation technologies. Ambri and BlackPak are two examples of ARPA-E projects that were spun out by other institutions—Massachusetts Institute of Technology and SRI International, respectively—in an effort to get their technologies out of the lab and into the market quickly. This video features remarks from ARPA-E Senior Commercialization Advisor Sue Babinec and interviews with technologists at Ambri and BlackPak, who each tell the story of how their new companies spun out of the lab and have become agile, thriving startups capable of delivering real products to the marketplace.

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