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Intestinal Natural Gas Storage

ARPA-E Award: 
San Francisco, CA
Project Term: 
09/03/2012 to 03/31/2016
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Image of Otherlab's technology
Critical Need: 

Today's natural gas vehicles are fitted with on-board fuel tanks that are too large, cumbersome, and expensive to properly facilitate the widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles in the U.S. and globally. Additionally, the low volumetric density of natural gas--roughly 30% less energy by volume than gasoline--limits the driving range of natural gas vehicles and makes cost-effective storage solutions a significant challenge. Dramatic improvements must be made to the capacity, conformability, and cost of on-board storage to accelerate natural gas vehicle adoption.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

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.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, Otherlab's intestinal natural gas storage system would allow an increase in the storage density, safety, and space utilization and give automotive designers more freedom in vehicle design.


Improving the convenience of natural gas vehicle ownership could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make consumers less vulnerable to sudden oil price shocks.


Natural gas vehicles produce approximately 10% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline-powered vehicles throughout the fuel life cycle.


Compressed natural gas currently costs half as much per gallon of gasoline equivalent. With the average American spending over $2000 per year on gas, enabling the use of natural gas vehicles could save drivers $1000 per year.

Innovation Update: 
(As of December 2016) 
Otherlab has designed and developed a new natural gas tank that results in a 20% improvement in fuel capacity and driving range and fits into smaller, more complicated spaces in vehicles. Otherlab has formed a new company, Volute, supported by a strategic partnership with Westport Fuel Systems, Inc., which engineers, manufactures, and supplies alternative fuel systems and components. The team is targeting natural gas pickup trucks and passenger vehicles that typically carry cylindrical natural gas tanks in the truck bed or trunk for initial application. Volute has become a member of the CSA Natural Gas Vehicle 2 (NGV2)/Hydrogen Gas Vehicle 2 (HGV2) Technical Advisory Group for compressed natural gas and compressed hydrogen vehicle fuel containers, to help develop and approve a new edition of NGV2 that paves a path for the certification of conformable fuel storage tank technologies. After completing their ARPA-E project, Volute licensed their technology for conformable compressed natural gas storage to Westport. Volute is currently refining and scaling up their manufacturing process and has begun a hydrogen storage project. 
Otherlab has engineered a new natural gas tank design that comprises a single tube with a series of bends that allow the tube to occupy more of a space, much like the bends in an intestine allow it to occupy the space in the abdominal cavity. To maintain the required structural integrity needed to safely confine compressed natural gas in a tube with bands, the team fabricated a liner with periodic narrow sections that allow the tank to bend to its final shape. The exterior of the tank is braided so that the fiber can reinforce both the wide and narrow portions of the tank as well as the bends. The new design is advantageous because it allows natural gas fuel storage to be moved out of cargo and passenger space and it is well-suited for a highly automated continuous manufacturing process.
For a detailed assessment of the Otherlab project and impact, please click here.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Jason Rugolo
Project Contact: 
Mr. Dan Recht
Release Date: